In the SEC there is usually a steep, almost Grand Canyon-like learning curve most freshmen go through. Smart coaches give those young guys time to develop both mentally and physically. Limiting their role and responsibilities can be a way for some of the more talented rookies to get on the field early in the SEC. A few guys have the physical skills to play right away, but usually on the defensive line or at a skill position like running back. Very rarely does an inexperienced, undersized player make an impact at the linebacker position.
Dre Greenlaw at Arkansas has been able to jump right past some of that learning curve.
It was not planned that way. Greenlaw was expected to redshirt, but as Arkansas faltered on defense early, drastic changes had to be made. Eventually the staff put Brooks Ellis back in the middle which opened up an opportunity for Greenlaw, and the former safety from Fayetteville has made the most of it.
The depth at linebacker is more than questionable, it is outright unreal with injuries, transfers and position changes.
Everyone judges themselves on how they stack up to Alabama and Greenlaw at the weak side linebacker looked right at home.
In the clip below you see three different scenarios where he made an impact.
First, on this inside power with Alabama's Derrick Henry running right into the two stacked Arkansas backers living room, Greenlaw gives up at least 20 pounds to the big back but is able to get him to the ground and force a third down.
On the second play, the rookie linebacker shows his sideline-to-sideline skills and diagnoses an outside run immediately. He works outside the block of the TE and strings the entire play out allowing the corner to come up and make the play.
Finally in the last part of the clip you see Robb Smith dial up a run blitz from the edge that Brooks Ellis had success with last season. He times the snap and is in the backfield untouched.
Here again Greenlaw makes a play on Alabama running back Kenyan Drake after getting away from the first wave of defenders. Greenlaw keeps his discipline when the play goes away and spies the cut-back lane. If Drake got outside there was room for a huge gain.
This first-year player has a lot of development remaining but so far he's played above expectations. The big key throughout the rest of the season will be how the coaches keep him out of matchup nightmares against WRs like we saw against Texas A&M. A majority of the last 5 SEC opponents for Arkansas will be more run-oriented including the beastly Leonard Fournette and LSU. A big piece in wrangling Fournette in that game will fall on Greenlaw. Peyton Barber and Rock Thomas this Saturday for Auburn will see a lot of Greenlaw too and his play will be key to shutting them down.
Greenlaw: 9 Tackles vs Texas Tech, 5 Tackles vs Texas A&M, 10 Tackles vs Tennessee. 8 Tackles vs Alabama.
37 Total Tackles 9.7% of the team tackles, 2 TFL.