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Kwon Alexander, called ‘MVP’ by teammates, not thinking about risk of returning too soon

There are numerous candidates for most valuable player on the San Francisco 49ers: George Kittle, Jimmy Garoppolo, Richard Sherman, Fred Warner, Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, all of whom who have played just about the entire season. But according to Bosa, the MVP is Kwon Alexander, who played in half of the 49ers’ games this season, including a season-opener in Tampa in which he was ejected early.

As anyone who’s interacted with Alexander can attest to, he’s infectious. No matter what the circumstance or vibe of the locker room, he has this sort of innate, outward positivity about him. No matter how many times he says he feels “legendary” (it was at least four times in a less than five-minute interview on Thursday), it never feels disingenuous.

“He’s probably the MVP of our team, he’s the energy, all the time,” Bosa said. “It’s kind of hard for 16 games every single day to bring the passion, and have fun with it and if he’s there, then we have no choice but to have fun.”

Alexander’s impact has been obvious when he’s played (was the team’s second-leading tackler at 34 tackles before he was injured), but it evolved when he wasn’t able to. He returned to practice just days after surgery on his torn left pectoral and was on the sideline for each game afterwards, and has remained active, constantly providing pregame hype to the Hot Boyzz linebacker group. That name, created by him, came with Hot Boyzz gear that spread from the linebacker group to the entire team.

“I just love the team, I love the game,” Alexander said. “It’s hard to take me away from the game. It wasn’t my leg, wasn’t my ACL, my knee so I’m able to move around and it didn’t hurt that bad after surgery, so I was able to get around stay on my teammates, keep the mic, keep this thing going as they’ve been doing. They’ve been holding it down.”

Alexander’s replacement, rookie Dre Greenlaw, has done far more than hold it down. He’s been excellent, as was never more clear than his game-winning tackle on Jacob Hollister in Seattle.

Greenlaw is the picture of humility, pointing to his rookie status on Thursday, as he did Sunday, when asked about the tackle. He went from a sixth-round pick, initially viewed on the roster bubble, to immediately carving out a spot for himself and being named the starting strong side (SAM) linebacker. Alexander’s season-ending injury propelled him to the starting weak side (WILL) spot, an every down role in the 49ers’ usual nickel defense.

The rookie came up clutch in the 49ers’ previous meeting with Seattle, when he intercepted Russell Wilson in overtime for Wilson’s second interception of the season. It was the 49ers’ last interception prior to their meeting with the Los Angeles Rams in Week 16. He led all players with 13 combined tackles (one for a loss) in the 26-21 Week 17 win.

“He’s been legendary man, he’s been a great rookie, stepped up tremendously and I’m proud of him,” Alexander said. “He’s been putting the work in and you can see it on the field.”

Greenlaw deferred some that praise to Alexander’s tutelage and energy, which was immediately apparent on the 49ers’ practice field on Thursday.

“He’s the emotional leader of our team. He’s the hype guy that gets everybody going and we definitely missed that. Having him back out there, you could just tell by practice today, how much fun and how much energy we had, just having a warrior back like him, it just makes everybody want to go just like he does and just give us that energy and that enthusiasm and he brings it all.

“[He helped me] quite a bit. Especially that first couple of weeks that he was out, he was pretty good about my assignments, my detail what to look for and stuff like that. But just throughout the last couple of weeks, anything that I needed help on or anything, if I didn’t feel right, however I’m feeling, he’s like my big bro, he’s always there for me, whether it’s football or not but you know he’s definitely helped me out a lot throughout the last couple weeks.”

Alexander should not be able to return, but there he was on Thursday (albeit in a blue, non-contact jersey). Head coach Kyle Shanahan said there’s a chance he could play in the NFC Championship game.

As with everything, there was never a doubt in Alexander’s mind that he could make it back. He said he spoke to J.J. Watt, who tore his pectoral October 27 (Alexander tore his October 31) and took inspiration from his recovery, saying “he lifted me up too.”

But the risk of returning this soon is that Alexander won’t be able to get his strength back to full capacity. The earliest timeline for a tear off bone is traditionally six months, and playing in the NFC Championship would be more than a week before the three-month mark.

Alexander said he’s putting that all out of his mind.

“I’m not even trying to think about no risk right now, I’m staying positive,” Alexander said. “Once you go to that negative state, it stays in your mind, so just looking forward, moving on day by day.”


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