YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- Rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw was thrilled to play in his NFL debut during the 49ers' 31-17 victory in Tampa, but quickly had to lock in as things didn’t go exactly as planned.
Greenlaw got quite a few snaps with the ones during training camp, as the team eased veteran linebacker Kwon Alexander back into the fold safely with his surgically repaired ACL. What Greenlaw hadn’t planned on was playing 56 of the defense’s 69 plays in his first NFL game.
Late in the first quarter, Alexander was ejected from the game after being flagged for a personal foul for lowering his head when tackling Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston. Greenlaw immediately went to work as the WILL/weak-side linebacker.
“Nothing like I imagined,” Greenlaw said. “I mean it was everything and more. Just the first time being out there, I definitely did not expect to play as much as I did, but coach always tells us to be ready.
“So when Kwon went down, it was my time to step in and focus on doing my job and doing my assignment.”
While Greenlaw didn’t have a perfect game, coach Kyle Shanahan was pleased with the rookie adjusting to the situation at hand.
“I think Greenlaw did some good things,” Shanahan said. “He’s definitely a good tackler, he’s not afraid to hit you. It was good for him to get that experience and to come away with a win.
“Once we lost Kwon, it was a chain reaction to everybody, so he had to step it up. He had to play a lot. Had a few rookie mistakes like they all do, but he played good enough for us to win and I was happy with him. Now, we need to get better going forward.”
Greenlaw explained that while he played the WILL linebacker position in college, he had been practicing predominantly at the SAM/strong-side position. Thankfully for the rookie, it all came back to him after a few plays.
“I was playing SAM all week so I wasn’t expecting to play much WILL,” Greenlaw said. “It just so happened that it happened, and I had to go in there at WILL. Had me thinking a little bit but just had to go in there. I knew what I was doing and got the job done.
“That’s the place that I’m the most comfortable at. I was already prepared. I knew what I had to do. Just had to go out there and do my job and execute.”
When Greenlaw was asked about the four turnovers generated by the defense, his eyes widened and his excitement seemed to grow even more.
“It’s big time,” Greenlaw said. “We have some great players on defense, all around. We have some things to correct, but I think we did a really good job standing our ground when we had to. We had some players make great plays and I’m just proud to be a part of a defense that did something.”
Greenlaw will see a reduced snap count with Alexander’s return to the lineup in San Francisco's Week 2 match up with Cincinnati, but the rookie’s first game is something he obviously will always remember.
“It was a crazy experience and just the feeling of being out there and getting that win and sharing it with my teammates is unreal.”