49ers’ penalty-prone LB Greenlaw on officiating: ‘They’re definitely looking for me’

49ers coaches and teammates laud Dre Greenlaw’s aggressive style while officials throw yellow flags

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Officials aren’t the only ones looking for Dre Greenlaw.

The 49ers linebacker is establishing a reputation that extends beyond the yellow flags that trail him. When Christian McCaffrey was preparing to face the 49ers as a member of the Carolina Panthers, he said Greenlaw was as noticeable as he was explosive on game film.

“Everyone in the league knows who he is,” McCaffrey told reporters on Thursday. “He reminds me of a Mike Tyson type.” He always plays with the most violent intentions. He’ll make you feel it if he tackles you, that’s for sure.

“You feel a little more confident when he’s on your team.” I know I feel great when No. 57 is dressed.”

Greenlaw has been limited in practice this week due to an ankle injury, but he is expected to play against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday. Assume officials will be ready with their flags every time the 49ers’ version of a heat-seeking missile takes aim at an Arizona jersey.

Greenlaw has been penalized six times for unnecessary roughness since the start of the 2022 season, including an ejection last November 13 for a hit on Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert.

Greenlaw has one in each of the last two games, one for a blow on Giants wide receiver Darius Slayton after a 3-yard gain and another for a jet sweep on Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua.

Which begs the question: Is Greenlaw a wanted man among government officials?

“They’re definitely looking for me,” said Greenlaw. “I’m not looking for a fine. The whistle blows, and I hit someone at the same time, and I get flagged for it. Either that or they expected me to do that and are prepared for it.”

Greenlaw, listed at 6-foot-229 pounds, is the new breed of NFL linebacker, capable of playing with speed and abandon from sideline to sideline. However, there is a fine line in the NFL between what constitutes unnecessary roughness and what does not.

Calls made in the last two weeks were marginal at best and had nothing in common with a penalty a decade ago.

“The guy was still up and I didn’t see the whistle being blown,” defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said of one of the flags. We accept the punishment. It was called. But I thought he was still in legal play because he made the hit. I will never, ever take away his aggressive play. That is his character as a player.”

Last season, Herbert broke out of the pocket on the run and was lunging forward after being brought down by Fred Warner and Charvarius Ward. Greenlaw arrived just in time, but Herbert lunged forward, exposing his head. Herbert left the game but returned shortly afterwards. Greenlaw was reprimanded and ejected.

The last thing 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan wants is for Greenlaw to tone down the instincts and explosiveness that earned him a two-year, $16.4 million contract extension last season.

“He doesn’t hesitate in anything he does, so he jumps off the screen to people,” said Shanahan. “But you still have to call it correctly.” It’s difficult when people are like that. He plays one way, and if he ever plays in an illegal or prohibited manner, we will quickly change that.

“But Dre is a very talented athlete and a very physical and violent player who can play that fast and keep himself out of trouble for the most part.”

Tashaun Gipson, the 49ers’ starting free safety, had little knowledge of Greenlaw when he arrived after training camp last year. He now considers Greenlaw a “firecracker” after seeing him firsthand on the field and in the film room.

“Dre is one of my favorite players, I’m not going to lie to you,” said Gipson. “He simply jumps off the tape.” “I thought to myself after my first game here, ‘I love the way he plays the game.'”

Warner and Greenlaw are soul mates, inseparable, and share similar skill sets. Despite this, Warner has never received an unnecessary roughness flag, though he was called for roughing the passer in 2020.

The All-Pro middle linebacker refused to speculate on whether Greenlaw is being scrutinized by officials as a result of the accumulation of penalties.

“I don’t know,” Warner responded. “Obviously, I can’t speak too much about the officials, but I love the way Dre plays and that’s honestly what we teach, so I’m not too concerned.” Nothing would be different.”

Gipson does not want to see Greenlaw become hesitant.

“I prefer Dre play like he does all day, every day,” said Gipson. “You never want to put a guy’s engine out of commission.” That is what distinguishes you and sets you apart. Dre, I tell you to keep going. He’s playing the same way he has since entering the league. (The penalties) are something Dre and Kyle must deal with. Dre has a small fortune. He is willing to pay the fines.”

Greenlaw, a fifth-round pick out of Arkansas in 2019, was a starter by the end of his second season. He is proud of his game tape, which impresses his coaches and teammates. He described a play against the Rams in which teammates held up the ballcarrier, forcing Greenlaw to come in at less than full speed.

“”It looked terrible on film — like I was lounging,” Greenlaw admitted. “I mean, you have to go home and watch that film, and you either feel good about yourself or you don’t.” The only thing I have control over is my effort and attitude, and we’re all pieces of a puzzle. “I know that if I go fast and hard and hit ’em every snap and find the ball, then I’m doing my part.”

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