The former TCU standout has ably replaced injured Lofa Tatupu, showing his instincts and abilities, but with a trio of high-price linebackers his future may be cloudy in Seattle.
RENTON — The cut sits on the bridge of David Hawthorne’s nose, red and raw and right between his eyes. It opened up when his helmet slid down after a particularly big hit.
Which hit? Hard to tell. He has taken plenty so far.
Consider it an occupational hazard from putting your nose in the opposing backfield as often as Hawthorne has in his two starts in place of injured Lofa Tatupu. Hawthorne hasn’t just made an impression, he’s left a dent.
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“He’s a hitter,” coach Jim Mora said. “He’ll smack you.”
You’ve probably noticed that by now. Hawthorne has been pretty hard to miss. When he started in place of Tatupu in Week 3, all Hawthorne did was intercept a pass and record 16 tackles, the most for a Seahawk since 2002. He had two sacks in Seattle’s loss to Dallas last week. Before that he forced a fumble by Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner that was mistakenly credited to defensive end Patrick Kerney.
There is a bright side to this Seattle season: It’s Hawthorne, who made the team last year as a big-hitting special-teams player and now is proving his bona fides as an every-down linebacker.
“Every once in a while you find a diamond in the rough,” Mora said. “A guy that not a lot of people knew about. I think David’s that guy.”
If he is, Seattle will have to face the question of just where he will fit. The Seahawks have committed more than $60 million in guaranteed money to its trio of starting linebackers.
Linebacker is a fertile place for finding the overlooked and the underestimated. Pittsburgh’s James Harrison, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year last year, was undrafted. Seven-time Pro Bowl player Zach Thomas was a fifth-round choice.
Hawthorne was small enough coming out of high school in Corsicana, Texas, that schools like Kansas State saw him as a safety.
“I didn’t touch 200 pounds until I got to college,” he said.
But Hawthorne, who went undrafted out of Texas Christian, had a linebacker’s mentality burned into his hard drive. He relished a role as a member of football’s seek-and-destroy fraternity, playing a position that demands you beat blocks by men much bigger, then tackle men who are much faster.
“It’s like the best of all worlds for me,” Hawthorne said. “I can cover, I can take on linemen, I can take on backs. It’s pretty much an all-around physical position.”
And Hawthorne is physical. That has been his signature since college.
“We look for guys that can run and will hit you,” said Gary Patterson, Hawthorne’s coach at TCU. “He was one of those guys that fit into that.”
Hawthorne redshirted his first year on campus, suffered a severe knee injury the next season and came back to be a starter as a sophomore in 2005. TCU had its breakthrough game early that season when it held Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson to 63 yards rushing on 22 carries in a 17-10 victory. While that was four years ago, Hawthorne showed that his nose for the ball translated to playing in the middle of an NFL defense.
“When you’re evaluating a college player, it’s tough to measure instincts,” Mora said, “and I think that’s a position that demands instincts.”
It also demands a willingness to stick your nose into the opposing offense. The cut on the bridge of Hawthorne’s nose speaks to his willingness to do just that.
“We just think he has a high upside,” said Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org