Rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw made his first NFL start Monday night, and judging by the results, the fifth-round pick out of Arkansas should do well in his second start Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
Greenlaw, pressed into a starting role following the season-ending injury to Kwon Alexander, is now the 49ers’ No. 1 weakside linebacker.
In his first start he was in on 70 defensive snaps (96%), had eight tackles, a pass defensed and an interception, which he returned 47 yards.
Playing alongside middle linebacker Fred Warner, Greenlaw flashed all the elements that made the 49ers draft him: speed, quickness and smarts.
In his first start, he handled his assignments and made plays.
"The game’s not too big for him," said San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh this week. "He did a nice job. He was calm. It’s good to have Fred in there because Fred’s a calming presence for him. He was on his job, he was very reliable, he was dependent, wasn’t afraid.
"We have other packages in the event, like if he was panicking, but we felt very comfortable with him throughout the game to keep him in there for the entire game and I thought he did a really nice job. The game wasn’t too big. I don’t think he had any busts. A couple of technique things he could clean up, but he was on this job. I was pumped for him."
Greenlaw’s interception was huge in overtime, coming at the San Francisco 4-yard line to stop Russell Wilson and the Seahawks from a game-winning drive. The Niners, however, couldn’t cash in on the interception – missing a 47-yard field-goal attempt – and Seattle came back to win 27-24 on a field goal on its next drive.
Alexander, who had been having a terrific season at linebacker, was on the sidelines Monday night, watching Greenlaw in his starting debut. Alexander said the rookie was ready.
"He’s been a tremendous rookie, doing everything right, working hard," said Alexander. "We put a lot of extra film in this week, and it all paid off. He got an interception. I’m proud of him. I’m happy for him. He’s just a great young man."
The 8-1 49ers, coming off their first loss, will try to rebound Sunday at Levi’s Stadium against the 3-6-1 Cardinals. Kickoff is set for 1:05 p.m. Oddsmakers have the 49ers as 10-point favorites.