Although linebacker Dre Greenlaw has been a starter for the 49ers in their base defense as a rookie, he just became infinitely more important to the team’s hopes this season.
The 49ers invested a lot in veteran free-agent Kwon Alexander, and in the club’s first eight games he proved to be worth every penny.
But Alexander’s season came to an abrupt end on Thursday night when he tore his pectoral late in the third quarter of the 49ers’ 28-25 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Without Alexander on the field, Arizona scored 11 points, including an 88-yard touchdown pass from Kyler Murray to Andy Isabella.
“We don’t like the way it ended,” Greenlaw said. “We feel like we should have done a lot better, especially on defense.
“We may be 8-0, but a lot of guys are down. We just want to play good, perfect ball. We know we have to go out there every night and give it our all. It feels good to be 8-0, but at the same time, we know we could have let one slip.”
Greenlaw produced his biggest play of his rookie season Thursday, when he threw Murray for a sack in the second quarter. He will get plenty more opportunities to contribute the rest of the season.
“For me personally, the guys tell me to be ready at all times, be patient, do my job, and stay consistent and everything is going to happen,” Greenlaw said. “I did my job, and it happened the way it was supposed to.
“I’m just trying to do whatever I can for my team.”
Greenlaw, a fifth-round draft pick from Arkansas, registered three tackles on defense, as well as another tackle on special teams.
He has a large role to fill in Alexander’s absence. Alexander and middle linebacker Fred Warner have formed a dynamic presence for the 49ers as the club’s top two tacklers. Warner led the 49ers with nine tackles and had a pass defensed on Thursday.
Hate that for you brudda! Know we gone hold it down for you LilTrilla🔥 @kwon— Keaundre Greenlaw (@DreGreenlaw) November 1, 2019
Greenlaw is slated to take over Alexander's spot at weakside linebacker. Greenlaw's spot at strong-side linebacker on base downs will be filled by Azeez Al-Shaair or Mark Nzeocha.
Greenlaw’s elevated role comes at a time when the 49ers get four days off before reporting back to work on Tuesday to begin preparations to face the Seattle Seahawks on Monday, Nov. 11. The 49ers (8-0) enter their most difficult stretch of the season, with a return matchup against Arizona in Week 11, followed by matchups against Green Bay, and at Baltimore and New Orleans.
“We just have to make sure we all get healthy and make sure we got everybody ready to rock and roll,” Greenlaw said. “Take it one game at a time, make sure we prepare, make sure we’re healthy and we’re ready to play ball.”