Kevin Greene, as always a man of loudly expressed and fervently felt emotions, was loud and fervent when first confronted with his proposed move from linebacker to defensive end just a few months ago.
Greene, as always, blitzed past the subtleties and jumped to the heart of the matter.
“I thought, ‘Aww, man, I’m a defensive end? ' " Greene said, grinning sharply at the recollection.
In the early stages of the switch, nobody--not Greene, not the new defensive staff--was sure Greene could be the same disruptive force lined up as an undersized defensive end.
But the Rams put him there and kept him there, mostly because there was no other place for him.
His old, blitzing-linebacker position no longer exists now that Fritz Shurmur’s 3-4 alignment is history, and it would be a reach to force Greene to assume the pass-coverage responsibilities linebackers have in the new scheme.
So Greene had to be a defensive end in Jeff Fisher’s newly constructed 4-3 alignment. Only now when Greene talks about his position switch, he does so in an eager, happy ramble, not a hollow roar.
“Now I look back and say I didn’t know all the parameters then,” Greene said. “I didn’t know everything it entailed. I’m comfortable with it now. I can play that position.”
It took him some time, and he still is not quite warmed by the thought of lining up his 250-pounds-on-a-good-day frame against 300-pound left tackles and sacrificing his body for the good of a linebacker’s tackle total.
But Greene, who had 46 sacks and a goodly share of glory the past three seasons as a blitzing left-side linebacker, has recognized that Fisher doesn’t intend to lock him into the role of a typical defensive end.
Greene will line up standing like a linebacker at the end spot, he will at times drop back into coverage and he believes he still should get plenty of chances to drop quarterbacks.
“Coach Fisher knows that I’m an outside linebacker, and he knows the transition I’m going through playing defensive end,” Greene said.
“You know, I’m not saying that I’ve got this thing down pat, but I’m saying that I’m not struggling with it. It’s a challenge and teams may block me differently, but I think I’m going to be productive wherever I’m at.”
With much more emphasis on creating a total pass rush and with Greene no longer being asked to be a pass rush all by himself, he says there will be more sack opportunities for everybody on the line.
“I’m a defensive end now, so be it,” Greene said. “I don’t see me slacking off on the sacks or tackles at all.”
Instead, Greene has become the most obvious and vocal lieutenant for a defensive staff determined to light a fire under its players. In practice, Greene yelps and screams at his teammates, playfully taunts the offense and generally causes as much chaos as one man can--a huge departure from last year’s serious, quiet workouts.
Emotion, which is part and parcel of the new defense, is something Greene has no problem expressing.
“We’ve done a 180-degree turn from a read, bend-but-don’t-break type zone defense to a blitzing, pin-your-ears-back, slick-your-hair-back, come-with-the-heat type defense,” Greene said.
“And it’s just a total turn-around adjustment. It means everything to this defensive team. I’m trying to get that motivation going and it’s a snowball effect. If you get one guy fired up, you get two guys fired up, a couple of other guys fired up, and it just spreads like wildfire.”
Coach John Robinson pooh-poohs any questions about Greene’s position switch, insisting that Greene is being asked to do many of the very same things he did as a linebacker last season, that most of the time when he blitzed he drew a tackle, anyway.
Robinson lumps Greene in with the 49ers’ Charles Haley, New Orleans’ Pat Swilling and Minnesota’s Chris Doleman as linebacker-type players who might as well be called defensive ends because they always rush the passer and always are blocked by tackles.
Ram defensive line coach John Teerlinck said when the staff first slotted in Greene at defensive end, there was some concern about his ability to match up on the front line.
“We knew he could rush the passer, but there was obviously a concern about, ‘Can he stand in there on a 300-pounder and slug it out?’ ” Teerlinck said. “And so far what we’ve seen, he’s had the ability to do that better than you would think from a guy his size.”
But it’s all qualified by the size factor; defensive ends in a 4-3 usually weight 270 or more, and in an aggressive scheme usually closer to 300. With Greene, the Rams will have to compensate, swinging safeties and linebackers his way to keep offenses from pummeling him.
“I’m 250 pounds, I like to think that I have a deceptive strength,” Greene said. “When I rush against people they see a 250-pound linebacker, but I think I hit them with a lot of power with my legs and chest and shoulders. I hit them with a lot of deceptive strength at one time, (it) maybe throws them off.
“But I’m not a defensive end. I think anybody can look at me and see I’m not a Reggie White. I’m just Kevin Greene. I’m 6-3, 250, and just doing my thing and having fun.”
Greene knows that, in the beginning at least, offenses will draw up game plans specifically designed to overpower him, to drive him back and shoot running backs through the hole.
And it will probably begin Sunday, against the hard-running of the Phoenix Cardinals and 300-pound-plus Pro Bowl left tackle Luis Sharpe.
“I’m sure that’ll happen, but I’m going to have some help,” Greene said. “I’m going to have a linebacker coming up, another one right behind me. They know they can’t leave me to get pounded all day.
“I mean, you put a 250-pound guy in front of a 310-pound guy, the laws of physics tell you something’s wrong here, no matter how strong and quick I am.”
FRIDAY: RAMS ’91: A pullout section previewing the Rams’ prospects will appear Friday inThe Times Orange County Edition.