Dre Greenlaw still will play vital 49ers role with Kwon Alexander back

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SANTA CLARA – Dre Greenlaw gave the 49ers last week off. The rookie linebacker’s perfect goal-line tackle secured an NFC West title, a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

That moment in Seattle never will be forgotten, etched into 49ers lore as one of the best defensive plays in this storied franchise’s history.

Greenlaw isn’t walking around with his chest puffed out, flashing his badge of honor some two weeks later. He isn’t living in that moment, instead re-packaging it in a way that can be applied to what comes next.

“It’s just a tackle that was a big deal because it was a game-winner,” Greenlaw said. “Hopefully we don’t have to make a lot of those moving forward. But, if it comes down to it in a big moment where we have to get a stop or make a big tackle, I have faith in Freddie and Kwon and myself to make that play. We’re going to go out there and hunt and tackle and hit people hard.”

Fred Warner, Kwon Alexander and Dre Greenlaw will be hunting Vikings during Saturday’s divisional-round playoff against Minnesota at Levi’s Stadium, the first time in forever all three guys will be on the field at the same time.

The linebacking corps has been a man down since Alexander tore his pectoral muscle in Week 9. That injury’s normally a season-ender, but Alexander has rallied, recovered and will come off injured reserve in time to play the Vikings.

“Getting Kwon back is just what our linebackers needed,” Greenlaw said. “He has helped me and Azeez [Al-Shaair] and a lot of the young guys. We know how he’s going to play. He has that great energy and passion. He loves to hunt. He loves the run. Getting him back now is perfect timing.”

Alexander missed eight games, which could’ve led to a defensive disaster. Greenlaw didn’t let that happen and deserves a pat on the back.

“I don't think it gets talked about enough, honestly,” Warner said. “Dre coming in for Kwon, we’ve asked a lot of him throughout the weeks. The game plan's always changing. He's stayed steady. It's never perfect. It's never perfect for anybody. I think just how he's floating around to the ball. He has made the hits he's supposed to make and just been solid. Props to my guy.”

Alexander’s return doesn’t instantly make Greenlaw an understudy. The high-priced veteran isn’t expected to play every snap in his return to action, meaning Greenlaw still could be a three-down linebacker Saturday afternoon.

The Arkansas product is ready for anything, even if it means moving back and forth from the strong side to the weak side based on the package and if Alexander rotates out more than he normally would.

“In this defense, some of the things you do at WILL you also do at SAM and vice versa,” Greenlaw said. “If you’re going to play one linebacker position you’d better know the others. It would be easy switch up if I have to go from one position to another.”

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Greenlaw’s comfortable in any role, at any linebacker position. That’s important as the 49ers work Alexander back into a lineup that’s better than when he left it. Greenlaw’s development makes that a fact.

“Any time you have to play that many snaps, you learn so much through experience,” Greenlaw said. “You pick little things up as the season goes on and you start to make better reads. You start learning the defense better, too. Second-string practice reps are limited. You might only get 15 a day, but when you’re that guy and you’re getting 35 to 40 reps in practice and 60 in a game, you can really make progress.”

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