FAYETTEVILLE - Dre Greenlaw walked into the basement of the Fred W. Smith Football Center on Tuesday sporting a LeBron James jersey, a pair of basketball shorts and a white pair of sneakers. He was comfortable - exactly the opposite of where he was at this time last year.
Greenlaw didn't just look relaxed Tuesday. He was, and is, relaxed. He's the owner of one of two starting linebacker spots on the Arkansas defense this season-opening game week. Greenlaw started only 11 of the team's 13 games last year and still nearly the team in tackles, his 95 just seven short of then-three-year starter Brooks Ellis. Ask around the SEC, to coaches or talking types, and some confide he has all-league potential in just his second season of college football.
This after his position coach and his head coach threw him straight into the fray after limited glances early in 2015. It was such a shock to Greenlaw he had to fight back the nerves. It wasn't that Greenlaw was surprised they were giving him a whirl at things; it was more like the natural anxiousness and uneasiness of Division I football for a first-timer.
"Texas Tech came around and (linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves) was like 'We want you to come in and start this game,' I was just 'Whaaaa?'" Greenlaw said. "Going into I was real nervous. A lot of people found out about because they posted the depth chart. Everybody kept texting me like 'Oh, man, you're starting this game.' I was like, 'Yeah,' trying to play it cool. I was dying inside."
Straight out of Fayetteville High School as a safety, Greenlaw was a late commit to Arkansas. And he was now a linebacker. Flushed into duty early, he had four tackles in four snaps against UTEP. He figured he had this college football thing down. Coaches didn't see it that way just yet and he played just one against Toledo. That game, of course, was an upset and changes were clearly on the horizon. Texas Tech followed.
Arkansas lost again, but Greenlaw had nine tackles that day. There was a busted coverage here and missed tackle there. Still, it was evident Greenlaw was the second-best option at linebacker behind Ellis.
Things got easier for him.
Ten tackles against Tennessee. Eight against Alabama. Sixteen against Auburn.
Suddenly, the undersized never-before linebacker was a stalwart. He earned Freshman of the Week honors. And it wasn't just the tackles. Those would come, anyway - though not at the rate he was collecting them - as part of defensive coordinator Robb Smith's scheme. Things were being funneled Greenlaw's way as part of the plan. The FHS grad five months before was now the centerpiece of an SEC defense. And he was sort of faking his way through it. Sort of.
"I didn't want to be the reason why we lose or something," Greenlaw said. "So I was like 'Man, I need to go in and study a little bit.' I guess when I was out there it was more just like go out there and do your best and try to, not necessarily look good, but make it seem like I knew what I was doing. The more confident you look out there, the more confidence they will have in you."
He doesn't have to force emotion or know-how anymore. He is a clear starter and there is no threat for anyone to steal snaps. There is no Dre Greenlaw-of-2015 in the immediate rear-view mirror. Freshman De'Jon Harris comes closest.
And that remains the catch with Greenlaw's unit. As good as he and Ellis are, the two of them playing almost every snap in 2016, like they did in 2015, would be bad news. Hargreaves is seeking a third and fourth, at least, to vulture snaps, whether in blowouts or occasional rests early in tighter games. Whatever gives Ellis and Greenlaw more stamina later in the game and later in the season, that's what Hargreaves ones.
The Greenlaw he gets in the meantime, though, he'll take. All-SEC is a legitimate possibility, nevermind the whispers.
"The difference between this year and last year is now he knows what he is doing," Hargreaves said. "That might be a little dangerous."
Follow Eric on Twitter: @ericwbolin