SANTA CLARA (CBS SF) — There’s a spark of energy on the practice field of the San Francisco 49ers that has been missing for several weeks.
Linebacker Kwon Alexander, sidelined earlier this season after undergoing surgery for a torn pectoral muscle, is preparing to play Saturday when the 49ers take on the Minnesota Vikings in a NFC Divisional playoff showdown.
His return from injury — along with that of pass rusher Dee Ford and safety Jaquiski Tartt — has re-energized one of the NFL’s best defensive units.
“Having Kwon is exciting,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh told reporters. “He brings a lot of juice, a lot of energy. Even in practice, if there’s a lull in practice, he’s the first to speak up to get guys going. From a coach’s view, it’s very beneficial to have a guy who regardless, whether it’s bad or good, his voice is projecting positive energy and trying to get people rolling.”
“To have Kwon, aside from the player, just from the juice and the energy he brings and what he does for everybody around him, is really priceless.”
In Alexander’s absence, rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw has filled in admirably and won a place in the hearts of 49ers fans forever with his dramatic tackle of Seattle’s Jacob Hollister inches short of the goal line to preserve a 26-21 win and the NFC West title.
The play locked up last week’s bye and made the NFC road to the Super Bowl go through San Francisco for the first time since 1997.
“I don’t even think it gets talked about enough honestly,” said 49ers starting middle linebacker Fred Warner. “Dre coming in for Kwon, like you said, as a rookie, we’ve asked a lot of him throughout the weeks. Game plan’s always changing. He’s stayed steady. It’s never perfect. It’s never perfect for anybody. I think just how he’s floating around to the ball, made the hits he’s supposed to make, just been solid. That’s props to my guy.”
But Warner also said it would be good to have Alexander back on the field in whatever capacity he can deliver.
“It’s been legendary,” Warner quipped with a smile. “No, it’s been really great. Just a different swag, energy out there when he’s on the field. It’s great having him back out there. He looks great. Should be fun having him back out there this weekend.”
The additions of Alexander, Ford and Tartt to the practice field has even drawn the attention of star tight end George Kittle.
“It’s awesome,” Kittle said. “Those guys, I mean, getting to watch the defense back at its full strength, when you have Quiski out there, linebackers, Dee and [DL Nick] Bosa on the edge, it’s fun to watch honestly.”
“Sometimes in practice, when the defense is off, the offense is off, you’ll be talking about plays and stuff. This week, you kind of want to watch because it’s fun to see them working together. They’ve definitely brought the tempo back, picked it up a little bit. Fun to get out there and see those guys play.”