The David Hawthorne Case

[Note by JasonB, 02/18/12 6:47 PM EST ] We've got some well thought out cases for free agent LB acquisitions being made in the fanposts today!

Sorry, it took me awhile. It took me more time than I thought to get some of these games. (There are a few GIFs so be sure to click on them and watch)


In response to DSmith's request a few weeks ago, I took the time to look over one of the possible free agent options that could be a possibility to our defense severely lacking any impacting play from the linebacker spot: David "Heater" Hawthorne. In a free agency that's likely going to feature quite the quality picking among the pack of players, this would (and needs to be) the off season we finally address the linebacker spot whether through the draft or through free agency. This free agency features some valuable names among the linebackers (including stud Curtis Lofton, the steady D'Qwell Jackson, BGN favorite Stephen Tulloch, and the underrated Dan Connor). Since not much had been known about David Hawthorne (even by me) I decided to get ahold of a few games and scout him myself as well as doing a little snooping about him. More after the jump.....

David Hawthorne

Height: 6'0"

Weight: 246 lbs


I learned about Hawthorne myself in 2009, when he supplemented Tatupu in a game against the Chicago Bears. That game he recorded 16 tackles (15 solo) and 1 INT. Two games after that he finished out the season in relief of Tatupu. In 2010, Tatupu returned and Hawthorne slid outside to the SAM spot (while Leroy Hill manned the WILL spot). He went on to have a solid year. In 2011, he took over the MIKE spot once Tatupu was released and finished the season with 115 tackles and 3 INTS (including the blind one Young threw to him).

In the beginning of the season and possibly the end, many people (including myself) thought that Hawthorne was a sure-fire resigning, but Danny O'Neil of the Seattle times mentioned the following about Hawthorne....

"David Hawthorne is going to be interesting. I don't know how much market ability he'll have on the free-agent market. He led the team in tackles for three straight seasons, he played with a sprained knee for most of the season last year and he was kind of one of those leaders on the defense. But they want to get faster at linebacker and they could easily slide K.J. Wright inside to take over that position -- he'd probably be a cheaper alternative than bringing David back. So there's a possibility that Hawthorne could move on."

After reading that I thought it would be suitable to look around at Hawthorne myself. As stated, I went back and watched 3 games with Hawthorne: vs the Chicago Bears, vs the Washington Redskins, and vs the New York Giants.

*Note, take these games slightly on a curve. Reason being, Hawthorne sustained an MCL sprain prior to the beginning of the season. The injury forced him to miss the season opener against 49ers and limited his mobility throughout the season. I used a little help from the GIFs I found at Field Gulls and some comments that they made.

Game 1: vs the Giants

This was one of Hawthorne's earlier games, so he looked a really fluent in this game (note I watched all the games starting from the latest one the earliest one). The story of this game was the run defense for the Seahawks which Hawthorne had a lot to do with.

The Negatives:

>Was for the most part good in zone coverage all day, but had a major lapse on one play that led to a touchdown. He was more concerned getting into his drop than he was finding the open man because Ballard was the only person in the middle of the field.

>He blitzed a lot in this game and whenever he came from the 2nd level, he was for the most part ineffective as a blitzer. He looked really indecisive and hesitant in which gap he should blitz.

>I like his hitting ability, but more than less he has a problem with not fully wrapping up. He's more than strong enough to wrap up and take a guy to the ground, but it a lot of times he'll go for the hit to stop someone and if they don't go down from the initial hit, he'll drag them down. Good hitter, but needs to follow through with his tackling.

>In the second half (maybe from fatigue), he started letting blockers get into his body. He is a very strong guy, especially for his size. I think it was more a fatigue factor since Hill went out and they started keying on him.

The Positives:

>Early in the game, he was really good at attacking the blockers before they attacked him and disengaging them. Even if wasn't making the tackle he was up in the lineman's face early in the game.

>I noted on his strength earlier and I'll do it again. He is a strong guy. On one blitz, he completely bulled over Kevin Booth (Booth is 320 lbs) like he was a blocking dummy. And it was a stunt blitz so he didn't have a running start. He just plowed over him.

>I mentioned in the negatives that when he blitzed from the second level, he was more than not apprehensive. However, it's the complete opposite when he did it near the line of scrimmage. Many times this game he was a step or 2 from nearly getting a sack on Manning when he was up close. Maybe because from the second level he has to follow the hole in which he has to blitz is why he struggles. But when he's up close he lives up to his nickname.

>Just had to throw this in here as a positive.

Game 2: vs the Redskins

I said it before on a few comments and I'll say it again, from the overall stand point (from what I saw) this might have been (and hopefully was) Hawthorne's worst game this season. Nate Dogg from Field Gulls made an interesting comment that I thought might be an adequate statement.

I don't know a ton about Shanahan's offense, but from what I do know and what I saw from Hawthorne in this game, I think it puts a ton of pressure on the middle linebacker.

The Negative:

>PLAY ACTION. PLAY ACTION, PLAY ACTION!!!! The play action pass was not Hawthorne's friend this day. Consistently he bit over and over and over on the play action. However, the entire Seahawks' LB group struggled against the PA as it was open all day. Hawthorne luckily wasn't targeted all that much. There was one play though were it was blatantly obvious how confused he was: On the PA he ran up and hit the full back and then realized it was a pass and literally turned and ran. The problem was the fullback was his man, so the full back flared out into the flat and no one was on him. He gained 21 yards. This is what happens when you struggle against the PA. I have no idea where he was going on that play.

>He seems to be his own worst enemy when it comes to blockers and cut back lanes. When a blocker is coming at him and he doesn't have a full idea where the play is going he let's the blocker get into him. Mainly it was on straight ahead runs. For example on this you see, he lets the center get a clean block on him when he thinks that the RB is going back inside. He should have followed his first thought and let his interior lineman take care of what was inside and handle the outside. Instead the center gets a block on him and the play goes right by him.

>Big thing about him, he's a big hitter, but not a sound tackler. Such as this. There should have no reason that Helu got out of that tackle. The PA had such an effect on the LBs this day that Helu had his second best rushing performance of the day against the Seahawks.

>Last note, this one isn't as bad I believe. Many times I see him attacking when he should be slow playing, and slow playing when he should be attacking. Its like he doesn't know which one to be and when he guesses wrong, he'll take himself out of the play by just jumping into the pile. It sounds bad, but I think if he gets better at doing some of the small things (reading the running backs eyes, eyeing the formation, etc.) he could learn to diagnose the play. He is not a dumb player by any means, but doesn't know when/when not to trust his first thought.

*Note: He was injured in the beginning of the 3rd quarter and was forced to sit out till the last 12 minutes of the 4th quarter.

The Positive:

>No it wasn't all bad. One thing I do like about Hawthorne is he is very good on stretch plays. He slow plays the stretch many times and either makes the tackle or forces the player to the sideline. That's good strategy on his part. Either make the tackle or force the play out of bounds.

>He is a good (maybe great) zone coverage LB. He should have had an interception in the 1st quarter, but a delay of game penalty was called. Besides, with 7 career INTS, I think it's safe to say he knows how to take the ball the other way.

>By the way, despite his size, he's a strong guy.

>He has command of the defense. He is a leader and does know what to point out to the players. Constantly, he was moving players around and calling out the signals to his players. He is very vocal on the field.

*Interesting comment by Rod Pitts during the game, apparently during "Heater's" rookie year, he broke 4 facemasks in the first 3 games of the season.

Game 3: vs the Bears

This game all around wasn't bad for him either. He didn't do anything spectacular, but wasn't a weak link out there.

The Negative:

>Once again, he struggled with blockers coming screaming at him. He doesn't seem to know whether he'll try and shed them, take them head on, over power them, or what. If he is playing behind the WIDE-9 for us, he'll have to make them decisions quick, fast, and in a hurry because he'll have little to no time to think about it.

>He had a problem with over pursuit some times and I think that attributes to my next negative...

>Gets too high sometimes. Instead of also using his lower body as well, he seems to stand straight up all game and even sometimes when he tackles he tackles too high. Like I said, he's a pretty strong guy so he can get away with it here and there. I think it ties together because when you are straight-legged, you can't play the cut back lanes. But he'll also run down the line and be there before the play gets there.

>Not a great in man coverage. He allowed a TD to Kahlil Bell, but it wasn't all his fault. He originally had good position on Bell, but Hannie bought a little time and Bell ran away from him. It was a hook route to begin with, but he saw the open field and ran to it.

>Once again, a good hitter, not a sound tackler. On one play he hit Kahlil Bell dead on and stuffed him, but due to some persistence, Bell gained 3 more yards after the hit. On another play, he hit Kellen Davis 1 yard short of the first down marker, Davis drove and gained another 3 yards before Hawthorne finally got him down past the first down.

The Positive:

>When he stays clean, he can quickly diagnose the run. Many times where the blocker wouldn't get to him, he get up field and make some sort of impact on the play.

>Very good at closing in on the ball, when he wants to attack, he can get to the ball quickly. Mainly on plays within his range.

>Did a good job of reading his keys. Especially when it came to the pulling guard. Was never fouled by the counter all game.

>Was once again very good in zone coverage. Kept Bell in front of him and was constantly in Davis' hip pocket when a pass went his way.

>Was once again good against the stretch plays and slow developing plays.

From what I'm garnering from around the grape vine, the general thought when it comes to Hawthorne is that if he is brought back than that would be fine among the Seahawks' fans, but if he's let go, then he is replaceable. Matter of fact, Pete Carroll seems to have high faith in K.J. Wright to fill in just fine....

Head coach Pete Carroll has mentioned the team's confidence in Wright's ability to play middle linebacker, saying there would be no hesitation to slide Wright inside in Hawthorne's absence.

So while it was thought that Wright was Curry's replacement, he may actually be Hawthorne's replacement as well as rumor has it that they maybe attempting to go after Larry Grant of the 49ers.

Kenneth Arthur of Field Gulls quoted it best what I thought about Hawthorne....

The only other free agent that anyone should really be concerned about re-signing is David Hawthorne. Well, I wouldn't say "concerned" so much as, it's going to be an interesting negotiation. Hawthorne is not an elite linebacker. He's not a great linebacker. He's a nice linebacker.

That's about what I was thinking about Hawthorne. He's not a stud, he's not a 1st tier guy, not a 2nd tier guy. Probably at best a 3rd tier guy. He'll go out and average about 7 tackles per game (which is something around his career averages). He is a good run defender, but average at best in coverage (which is the case with more LBs in the league nowadays anyways). Over at Field Gulls, most consider him a stop gap player and wouldn't be surprised if he isn't brought back....

I don't see us resigning Hill.

Hawthorne maybe but even he isn’t a sure thing and certainly isn’t a long term answer. Pete wants more speed on defense and Hawthorne is the biggest culprit even if Hill is the lowest hanging fruit. I suspect Hawthorne will be replaced sooner than later.

I don't believe Hawthorne's a long term guy for us.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see both Hawthorne and Hill gone given PCs candid address of the position in his seasons end presser.

(Now those aren't the only guys, of course there are some people who would prefer to have Hawthorne back and think he's a playmaker, I was just going with the overall thought).

Another big thing is, remember he'll be playing behind the WIDE-9. I believe the Seahawks ran a 2-gap system. We've seen LBs inhibited in drastic ways because of the unorthodox style to which LBs must play in a way in which they arent used to because they have to be able to make quick reads and react to them just as quick. You can't be wrong or over think in the WIDE-9.

What really has me wondering about him is his injury. In 2010, he played great at the SAM LB spot. In the Seahawks gameplans, LBs have to be interchangeable at positions. So he has the knowledge and experience to play the SAM spot, but the injury pretty obviously hindered him a bit this year. He wasn't moving at the same speed, but he still managed to start and play in 15 straight games. I guess what I'm wondering is (hypothetically) if we signed him at full health, would it be better to let him play MIKE and draft a SAM, or if he is healthy, sign him to play SAM and go after a MIKE?

Because of his relatively anonymity and solid but not standout career so far, he could probably be had at a good contract (maybe $2.5-4 million per year).

No matter what though, at least he would bring this to the defense....


So what do you think?

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