Friday, July 29, 2011

LeRoy Hill May Be Best Linebacker On Seahawks

News broke today that the Seahawks have re-signed linebacker LeRoy Hill to a short-term deal. Hill, you likely recall, was the less heralded part of the linebacker talent infusion from the first Tim Ruskell draft (Lofa Tatupu being the other). Hill had a fantastic rookie campaign, demonstrating a knack for making open-field tackles and getting to the quarterback (7.5 sacks). His numbers never were flashy after that season, but his value was clear enough to earn him the franchise tag just two seasons ago.

The promise of Hill has mostly outstretched his reality. Injuries, off-field problems and misuse by defensive coordinators limited his productivity. Most did not expect him back this season, and some even thought he could wash out of the NFL entirely.

Signing Hill today signifies the Seahawks front office believes he has enough left to bring him in to compete. It also may indicate the lack of affordable veteran linebacker help out on the free agent market. The loss of Will Herring left a huge gap in experience in that unit, so bringing on a player the coaches could conceivably start, if injuries required it, was important.

When healthy, and when his head is straight, Hill is possibly the best linebacker on this roster. David Hawthorne rightly holds that title right now, but Hill is a far superior coverage linebacker, and is a better blitzer/pass rusher. Hill's natural position is WILL (weakside), which is where Hawthorne plays now. Hill offers a nice opportunity to slide Hawthorne over to MLB.

Tatupu is injury-prone, and is not the player he once was. The best case scenario is that Tatupu can stay healthy and play well, allowing Hill to be a situational substitute in certain packages (I'd love to see him in the Bandit). A likely scenario, however, is that Tatupu will not be healthy enough or productive enough to play all the starter snaps this season. A linebacker corps of Hill, Hawthorne and Curry is vastly more athletic and flexible than one with Tatupu in it. Blitz packages would be more unpredictable. Sideline-to-sideline speed would be far better.

Nobody is cheering for Tatupu to get cut or fail. He's a warrior and a leader. Pete Carroll's philosophy places a lot of emphasis on specialization, and Tatupu is still the best coverage linebacker of the bunch. He would make a great 3rd down player in obvious passing situations.

Hill remains much more potential than production at this point. But don't be surprised if this minor footnote in free agency becomes one of the Seahawks best pick-ups during the season.

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