The Seahawks linebackers were a bit frustrating this season. Prior to the start, it was basically the only position group that nobody was worried about. They were solid and deep; Lofa Tatupu in the middle, David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill weakside, and Aaron Curry on the strongside. A linebacker corps to be feared and respected. At least I thought it was. Unfortunately it didn't really pan out like that.
Leroy Hill had problems with the law and then with his health and was placed on IR before the season started. David Hawthorne played well and was statistically the best linebacker on the team. Tatupu played alright, considering his myriad injuries and lack of size. Aaron Curry played alright as well. He is frustrating when you compare him to Clay Matthews but he doesn't play the same role as Matthews in our defense and thus doesn't get the same statistical production. That being said, he's not terrible either. He is a good player with the potential to be a great player, and I'm hoping that he takes that step in 2011.
Overall the group underachieved on a statistically terrible defense. They failed to shine in any defensive category. Their leading tackler was Hawthorne for the second straight year. He racked up 106 tackles, but compare that to league leaders (174 Jerod Mayo) and it's rather lackluster (26th among linebackers in 2010). In 2011 the Hawks linebacker corps will have to step up and make a bigger statement for the defense to get any better. Everyone tends to focus on the Defensive Line or Defensive Backs when it comes to the Hawks terrible defense, but some blame needs to fall on the linebackers as well.
Looking forward to next year the Seahawks have some decisions to make. The starting lineup with most likely remain the same: Lofa in the middle, Heater will be the weakside, and Curry will still be on the strongside. The obvious question will be: who do the Hawks pick up for depth?
Lofa is not getting any younger or quicker. An heir apparent will need to be chosen to fill the mike position at some point in the nearish future. Behind Tatupu in the depth chart the Seahawks basically have... David Hawthorne, the starting will linebacker. If/when Tatupu goes down, Heater moves to the middle to take over that role, and he did it admirably in the 2009 season when Lofa tore his pectoral muscle and missed most of the season. Behind Hawthorne the Seahawks have Will Herring, a nickel type coverage linebacker. Herring is a better in pass coverage than at run stopping, but is a serviceable, high motor type player that I like. He plays with fire and came up big for the Hawks in their "playoff" game against the Rams in week 17, picking off a Sam Bradford pass to help seal the victory.
There is not a whole lot of depth behind Aaron Curry either. I think right now the guy that would fill in for him would be Dexter Davis, a more than capable player. He's listed as a Defensive End though, so I'm not sure that's where they Hawks coaches see him playing best. Curry has proven to be pretty durable, but having some depth behind him will be a need as well.
On the depth chart, the Hawks have a few young guys and special teamers that haven't gotten much game-time experience. Matt McCoy is a veteran guy, but is undersized and will most likely never be a starter. He is a free agent, and he's a great special teams contributor so don't be surprised to see him on the roster again next year. He provides some depth at the weakside spot, but isn't the answer for the future.
Anthony Heygood, an UDFA out of Purdue, was signed before the season but tore his achilles tendon stretching for what would have been his first practice. Bad luck, and not really sure if he'll have a chance to compete this year (he was waived after tearing his achilles, so it remains to be seen if he'll get another invite). He is a high-ceiling, above average athlete, but is raw and unproven. He has the speed to be a good nickel type linebacker for the Hawks but don't expect to see him on every down anytime soon.
Joe Pawelick is another inside linebacker to keep an eye on. He strikes me as a Lofa-type player in the fact that in college he was extremely productive but lacks elite speed or size. According to scouting reports, he's an adept run-stopper that plays with a mean streak. He's an instinctive and intelligent player with the natural ability to captain a defense. The Hawks have him signed for the next couple years so they must see something in him to keep him around.
Then there's the question of Leroy Hill. I personally think that the Hawks should look to re-sign him at the right price. He will possibly come cheaply: he's had issues with injuries and the law that will diminish his worth. But his skills and talent are what could prove to be valuable. Why not try to re-sign the guy that Lofa Tatupu famously called the Hawks' "best linebacker" (on a corps of Tats and Julian Peterson, no small feat) for a discount? He provides exactly what we need at the position: depth, a veteran mindset, and a highly developed skillset. If Tatupu or Heater were to go down, he could step in and be a more than adequate option.
My guess is that he won't be re-signed, though. That leaves a glaring problem of depth at the LB position. It hasn't really been discussed much in terms of positions of need but I wouldn't be surprised to see the Hawks take a backer in the mid to late rounds or pick up a guy in free-agency. I am still a little bummed/annoyed that they didn't hold on to Tyjuan Hagler at the start of the 2010 season. Prior to being one of the final cuts to get to 53, he had really impressed me in the preseason. Hagler ended up playing really well for the Colts to start the season before he was injured. Hopefully Pete and Co will dig up someone like Hagler this season to provide some solid depth and potential future at the position.
In conclusion, it's not the position of greatest need for the Seahawks-.. this year. As long as they stay healthy, the starting linebacker corps is pretty solid. It is, however, a position that the Hawks will need to bolster in depth and start building for the future. Lofa Tatupu provides veteran leadership and instincts that will keep him on the field in 2011. David Hawthorne is arguably our best linebacker and will be solid again next season. And Aaron Curry... all I can say is that I hope that Aaron Curry has his breakout year in '11. As for depth behind those guys? I've spelled out a little bit who the Hawks have waiting in the wings, but it's a position that will surely have turnover between now and training camp. Hopefully 2011 will be the year the Hawks get back to having one of the elite linebacker groups in the NFC.