Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway is entering his 10th year with the franchise and has proven to be one of the best defensive players the team has ever had. He also has been a team player by taking pay cuts in each of the past few seasons to open up cap space for the Vikings.
While this may be Greenway’s final season (he has talked of retiring after this year), his play hasn’t diminished as he recorded 93 tackles last year in 12 games. And those four missed games last season were the first of Greenway’s long career with the Purple and Gold since sitting out his rookie year because of a knee injury.
He didn’t have to play much this preseason, recording just three tackles in four games, and a big reason for that is the young linebackers coming up who need the playing time and can let Greenway get ready for the season.
And he is impressed with the group of linebackers the Vikings assembled.
“With drafting Erik Kendricks, obviously we have Anthony Barr going into his second year, who just played awesome last year as a rookie, Gerald Hodges is a young, up-and-coming linebacker, we have Audi Cole who is a young, up-and-coming linebacker. This might be the youngest and most talented group of linebackers that we’ve had in my 10 years at Minnesota,” Greenway said. “It has been a fun group to be around, I’m by far the oldest by about six years, so they keep me young. It’s a good group, a talented group, and this is going to be a fun year. This is a good Vikings football team. We have a lot of work to do, but we’re really looking forward to getting the year started.”
Greenway talked specifically about the two UCLA teammates whom the Vikings have drafted the past two years in Kendricks and Barr.
“Yeah, you know the thing about Anthony Barr is he’s going into his second season, and the thing I was most impressed with last year was just his ability to handle the game mentally,” Greenway said. “He played like a veteran. Now he’s going to go into his second year and just be more advanced and have a year in the system. And this kid, Anthony is as talented of a football player as I’ve ever seen, kind of one of those football players where he just shows up and you want him to be the first one off the bus because he looks good. He’s a good kid, he plays hard, and I think the same thing with Kendricks. We’re learning a lot about him these last few weeks but he’s also a smart guy, a smart football player, very savvy, and one of those guys you want to have on your football team.”
Greenway was cautiously optimistic about the Vikings chances, but one thing he does like is the young talent around him.
“I think when people look at this football team on paper, they see how good of a job Rick Spielman and his staff have done of assembling talent, young talent especially,” he said. ‘‘I think you know any organization’s goal is to not only win with a championship-level team, but to do it for a long time. And when you get the right guy taking snaps, like we think we have in Teddy [Bridgewater], you think the sky is the limit. Obviously it takes both sides and takes a passing game and defense.
“I think we’re going to be a lot more comfortable in the second year under [coach Mike] Zimmer’s defense. We have a ton of playmakers there, the emergence of Xavier Rhodes last year, he’s just going to take the next step and be even better this year. So I think there’s a lot of things to be excited about. For me personally, in my 10 years this is probably one of the most excited times I’ve had going into a season, maybe aside from 2009. I just think the sky is the limit. But with a young football team you have to go to work, and we’ll just see how that happens during training camp and how maturely we can handle ourselves during that time.”
Cole ready for more time
One young linebacker who could see a significant increase in playing time this year is Cole, who was a seventh-round draft pick, No. 210 overall, by the Vikings in 2012, but is showing that he can play middle linebacker at the professional level.
Cole recorded just 26 tackles last season, but 14 of those came in the Vikings’ season-ending 13-9 victory over the Chicago Bears when Cole was all over the field making plays. This preseason he totaled six tackles while also forcing a fumble. In his rookie season in 2013 he had 45 tackles in 13 games.
He talked about his big game last year and getting ready for this season.
“That was definitely one of my best games,” he said. “It was exciting, and good to end on that. I’m glad I got the opportunity to have that game last year and show that it’s something that I can do.”
What is he seeing out of this young linebackers corps where everyone is fighting for a spot?
“It’s a big battle,” he said. “We have a lot of talent, a lot of good players, and a lot of competition. I just have to keep doing what I’m asked to do and hopefully things will work for me.”
Cole added that being in his third year means having a different mentality.
“This year I’m just a year older, another year in the system, know what I have to do,” said the North Carolina State product. “I’m not young around here anymore. I have to step up and make some plays.”
• Sports fans may remember Craig R. Dahl, who was named the CEO of TCF Bank this week, as a former prep hockey star from International Falls who played three seasons at Princeton. Dahl helped lead International Falls to a state hockey title in 1972 under head coach Larry Ross.
• This has been a great year for Twins minor leaguer Max Kepler, and he was rewarded by being named the Southern League MVP for the Class AA Chattanooga Lookouts. Kepler has hit .327 with 32 doubles, 13 triples, nine home runs, 70 RBI and 73 runs scored so far this season. Kepler, who is 22, was signed out of Germany the same year that Miguel Sano was signed out of the Dominican Republic.
• Tough news for former Hopkins guard Siyani Chambers, who will miss the basketball season for Harvard after tearing his ACL. The Ivy League doesn’t give out athletic scholarships, so Chambers will have to take a voluntary leave of absence from the school for one season to retain his eligibility. Chambers, who is a three-year starter and team captain, is expected to return for the 2016-2017 season.
• Former Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has been a great backup to Seahawks starter Russell Wilson the past two years, but a high ankle sprain suffered in the first preseason game left Jackson sidelined for the entire preseason.
• Speaking of former Vikings quarterbacks, Christian Ponder had a good final showing for the Oakland Raiders, going 7-for-11 for 99 yards in their 31-21 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night. But that wasn’t enough for the former Florida State star to prevent him from being cut in favor of former Penn State star Matt McGloin for the backup spot.