How 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw approaches replacing Kwon Alexander

How 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw approaches replacing Kwon Alexander

SANTA CLARA – Rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw takes over for veteran Kwon Alexander, who proved in the first eight games of the season to be worth every penny the 49ers paid to acquire him as a free agent.

So as Greenlaw shifts to weakside linebacker, his approach to replacing Alexander is to not view it in those terms. Greenlaw fully realizes he cannot be Alexander, so why even try?

“It’s not about what I got to pick up or what I have to do like Kwon to go do something,” Greenlaw said. “It’s about me doing what I’ve been doing since training camp and since preseason. I feel like I bring good speed to the room, running, tackling, and I have to continue to do that. With the teammates I have, and the guys around me, that should be enough.”

Greenlaw, a fifth-round draft pick from Arkansas, has appeared in all eight games this season. He was the team’s starting Sam linebacker, a spot in the 49ers’ defense that exits the field when the club goes to its nickel personnel in passing situations.

In the 49ers’ defense, their three linebacker positions are similar, so when Alexander went down late in the third quarter last Thursday with a season-ending torn pectoral, Greenlaw was called upon to step in at the Will linebacker position.

“I’ve had a couple position changes,” Greenlaw said. “Last game, I had to process things a little different. I knew what they were doing, the plays they were running, but at the same time, it’s about understanding my fits.

“I was slightly more hesitant than I usually am at the Will spot. Just because the last few weeks, I’m been focused so much at Sam.”

Greenlaw had the biggest play of his rookie season earlier in the game when he tossed Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray for a 19-yard loss on a sack. He also registered three tackles.

The assignment gets much more difficult on Monday night, as the 49ers go up against the Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson, the prohibitive favorite through the first half of the season to win NFL MVP. Wilson is third in the NFL in passing yards, while throwing 22 touchdowns with just one interception.

“It’s going to be fun,” Greenlaw said. “He’s a guy I looked up to, growing up watching football.”

Wilson is someone Greenlaw said he has long admired because of his ability to overcome the odds. Wilson was scrutinized coming out of college for being undersized, much like Greenlaw.

Moreover, even though they have never met, there is a connection. Greenlaw’s coach at Arkansas for three seasons, Bret Bielema, was Wilson’s coach at Wisconsin in 2011 for his final college season.

The Seahawks will almost certainly look for ways to exploit the rookie. Greenlaw said he is confident that he will not have to do too much because of the other 10 players on the 49ers’ defense, including middle linebacker Fred Warner, who lines up alongside him.

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“I get smarter and smarter every game, just understanding what I’m supposed to do and how things are supposed to fit, and where they’re trying to attack us,” Greenlaw said. “We really don’t know how the Seahawks are going to attack us, but the first 15 plays will show.

“For me, it’s about watching film, being prepared and just taking my assignment from the practice field to the game field and executing it there.”

NFL Draft 2020: How agents are dealing with many coronavirus obstacles

NFL Draft 2020: How agents are dealing with many coronavirus obstacles

The 2020 NFL Draft might favor players who were able to able to attend the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine, due to pro days and in-person meetings being canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. But some agents believe teams have all the information they need to proceed on schedule. 

Leigh Steinberg and Chris Cabott, from Steinberg Sports and Entertainment, spoke to NBC Sports Bay Area about how their preparation for the draft has been consistent to what they’ve done in the past. Their agency represents Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, among other draft hopefuls. 

Both long-time agents believe that players who attended an All-Star event or the combine have an advantage, but that always has been the case. As in every draft, there will be players that exceed expectations and those that don’t live up to them. 

“When I first started in the industry in 1975 with Steve Bartkowski, there were no pro days, no team meetings, no combine,” Steinberg said. “If you look at statistics from players then, to those selected in 2005, the players in 1975 were more successful and productive. 

“Teams obviously believe that the more information they have, the better, but at some point it’s enough. I believe they have enough information to make educated and prudent choices.”

Brett Tessler, who represents 49ers running back Raheem Mostert, believes players who weren’t able to attend or weren’t invited to the combine are at a disadvantage across the board. An off the radar player won’t have the chance to catch a scout or coach’s eye at a local pro day and jump up a team’s draft board. 

“For most non-combine guys, it's going to put everybody at an equal disadvantage,” Tessler told NBC Sports Bay Area. “Teams will rely more on the spring testing numbers that they got prior to this season.

“But, the biggest disadvantage for non-combine guys trying to get drafted is the lack of being brought in for pre-draft visits where the medical staffs can do all the background work on these guys that they need to do.”

Just like everyone across the nation, players, agents and teams are taking advantage of video conferencing technology like Zoom and Skype for their 30 one-on-one pre-draft visits. This actually might be the one advantage for players who have grown up with video calls as the norm. 

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As in the past, teams still have the ability to ask players schematic questions using a virtual chalkboard, and go over game film during video conferencing sessions. Cabott believes that this year, there also is one resource that could be more important than in previous pre-draft research. 

“Trainers,” Cabott said. “Those guys who were working with players, getting them ready for pro days will have information that will be important for teams. They can give projections, send videos of testing and have insight to a player’s work ethic.” 

NFL Draft 2020: Why Kentucky's Lynn Bowden could fit 49ers' offense

NFL Draft 2020: Why Kentucky's Lynn Bowden could fit 49ers' offense

When John Lynch assured 49ers fans that he and the rest of the front office still will be as prepared as ever for the 2020 NFL Draft despite the coronavirus pandemic, he did so in a video where he, of course, was grinding tape in the background. Lynch very might have been scouting the next offensive weapon for coach Kyle Shanahan.

It appears in the video that Lynch was watching tape of a University of Kentucky game. The Wildcats just so happened to have a do-it-all player who can be unleashed in Shanahan's offense. Lynn Bowden is the modern-day prospect every team is trying to get their hands on. 

The draft remains scheduled to begin on April 23, but the usual pre-draft meetings between teams and players have been wiped out due to the coronavirus. Well, kind of. 

Thanks to the power of technology, the 49ers still can meet with prospects and get to know them as more than just a player on film. The front office already had two FaceTime visits with Michigan State defensive lineman Kenny Willekes and TCU offensive lineman Cordel Iwuagwu, the prospects told Justin Melo of The Draft Wire. The Athletic's Matt Barrows reported Saturday that Bowden, who played quarterback and receiver at Kentucky, is on San Francisco's list of virtual interviews.

In Shanahan's first three seasons coaching the 49ers, he only has used two players other than quarterbacks to attempt a pass. Both came last season when Shanahan's complex offense truly began to take shape. Receiver Dante Pettis completed a 16-yard pass to running back Raheem Mostert in a Week 2 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, and fellow receiver Emmanuel Sanders hit Mostert with a 35-yard touchdown pass in a wild 48-46 Week 14 win against the New Orleans Saints. 

Now, just imagine if Shanahan had someone like Bowden. 

While Clemson's Isaiah Simmons can be labeled simply as "defense" for his versatility, Bowden should have OW next to his name for "offensive weapon." He was a receiver his first two-and-a-half years at Kentucky and had 745 receiving yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore. Then last season as a junior, he was asked to be the team's quarterback in their final eight games and dominated as a dual-threat QB. 

Bowden earned the Paul Hornung Award as the nation's most outstanding all-purpose player, as well as first-team Associated Press All-American all-purpose recognition. He rushed for 1,468 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, had 403 passing yards and three more scores and still led Kentucky in receiving yards with 348. To add the cherry on top, Bowden even helped returning punts and kickoffs. 

And with the ball in his hands, he's explosive.

At 5-foot-11 and 204 pounds, Bowden has speed, strength and great balance. He immediately can step in as the 49ers' version of a younger Taysom Hill. 

More importantly, Bowden fits in seamlessly to Shanahan's motion offense. Shanahan loves to use deception with play-action and multiple moving parts. This helped unleash Deebo Samuel as a ball-carrier throughout his rookie year. 

Shanahan can use Bowden on jet sweeps, reverses, play-action passes and even a wide receiver pass here and there. He's the perfect Swiss Army knife as football becomes more and more positionless. 

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After their two first-round picks, the 49ers are back on the board twice in the fifth round, twice in the sixth and once in the seventh. Bowden likely will be available in the later rounds and easily can turn into a steal.

Whether it be as a receiver, ball-carrier, Wildcat QB or returner, the possibilities are endless with Bowden as a 49er in Shanahan's offense.