Greene benefits from position change
Male Athlete of The Year
When Khaseem Greene found out he won the Big East’s Defensive Player of the Year for the second time in 2012, his first thought was if anyone had done so before.
“I thought I’d be the first guy ever,” said Greene, who joins Virginia Tech’s Corey Moore with that distinction. “I think that’s not too bad.”
It is one of the few moments Greene, a former linebacker on the Rutgers football team, has had anyone to compare to. The Daily Targum’s Male Athlete of the Year’s senior season reads like an artist’s best hits: 136 tackles, 12 for losses, a team-high six sacks, two interceptions, three fumble recoveries, six forced fumble and a defensive touchdown.
In two seasons, Greene forced former head coach Greg Schiano to re-envision his weakside linebacker, who led the Scarlet Knights to a first-ever share of a Big East title and finished 2012 with the nation’s No. 10 defense.
And it might not have happened without a paralyzing hit in 2010 and six straight losses that followed.
“Everything happens for a reason,” said former defensive tackle Scott Vallone.
Vallone watched as a true freshman in 2008 when Greene and other teammates played a pick-up game of basketball at the Werblin Recreation Center. Greene showed off dunk after dunk, and Vallone knew Greene’s skills were transferrable, even as both redshirted.
“I thought, ‘He’s big as hell,’” Vallone said. “He was dunking in reverse, windmills, everything. I knew he had ball skills and was a football player. His football instincts are out of this world.”
Those instincts attracted former head coach Greg Schiano, who knew he had to make changes after a down 2010 season. Eric LeGrand had suffered a broken neck that year, and a 69-38 loss at Cincinnati was the lowlight of a six-game conference losing streak afterward.
Schiano’s defense appeared a step behind, so he moved Greene a step down from safety, where he started as a sophomore.
Greene says he did not think the season affected Schiano’s decision-making, but his stance is not unanimous.
“We looked slow and run down,” Vallone said. “It was the physical toll of the season. It was the mental toll of Eric. If we had a good year, I bet that might not happen.”
Either way, Greene’s move to linebacker saw early returns.
Greene finished 2011 with 141 tackles, 14 for losses and 3.5 sacks. He became the face of Schiano’s re-tooled unit, which featured offseason changes at every level.
But Greene first met the position change with reservation.
“I remember me being stubborn and not seeing it [Schiano’s] way,” said Greene, who spent the weeks leading up to the NFL Draft between his New Brunswick apartment and his mother’s Edison home. “I wanted to stay at safety. He knows what he’s doing. The vision he saw wasn’t something I saw at the time.”
It is unknown if even Schiano, now head coach of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, foresaw Greene’s rapid two-year rise. The Chicago Bears drafted Greene in the fourth round of the NFL Draft on April 27.
“What I told the NFL teams is that what you see now is not the finished product,” said head coach Kyle Flood. “Two, three, four years from now he’s going to be even better than he is now because he’s only been playing linebacker for two years, so his learning curve is on its way up.”
Still, Greene insists the Knights’ scheme played a big part in his individual success.
“The WILL linebacker is pretty much protected,” he said. “I’ll take on a guard trying to get me instead of the MIKE with two linemen or the SAM at tight end. Our scheme allows for an athletic WILL linebacker who can run around and make plays.”
“That’s the money position in our defense,” Vallone said.
Greene says he does not have any second thoughts about if he stayed in the secondary. It took only until the following spring practice for Greene to feel comfortable at linebacker, and his production has shown it.
“I think pretty much every game,” he said, “were highlights for me.”