David Hawthorne has three sacks, five tackles for a loss and three interceptions in three starts. It's a line that has a few thousand Lofa Tatupu backers questioning their allegiances. Few want to say Hawthorne is better than Tatupu, but fewer still know how to prove otherwise. Hawthorne is active, making plays, making tackles, forcing turnovers, and Tatupu is on IR, on IR in his get-healthy season. If Tatupu has been Tats of old in 2008, this discussion might be more muted, but Tats of old is starting to look like, well, a player that doesn't exist anymore.
If Hawthorne had accumulated his eye-popping stats over a season, it would have inspired heated Hawthorne versus Tatupu debate. Heater had to do it in four. So how are we going to do this? Should I make rules or just hand out handguns. Field Gulls is place as any to wage this war. Let's pick sides and tear each other apart.
Ok, but really: Hawthorne is a find, but he's miles away from Tatupu when it comes to fundamental linebacker play. I gave myself a short schedule and stumbled into the most boring tape dissection I've had since Seattle at Pittsburgh in 2007. It's hard to judge an offensive line when Matt Hasselbeck pitches a tent in the pocket. It's hard to evaluate the wide receivers when they are never targeted. It's hard to evaluate a defense that started strong and then sat back and awaited the next drive ending pick. One drive was instructive, and it spoke to this debate.
Nate Burleson had committed pass interference in the end zone and still managed to drop a gimme touchdown. Detroit was back on the field, hoping to stem the comeback or at least kill some clock. It did neither, but it was close to achieving both.
What matters is Hawthorne. Seattle's linebackers are synchronized and interdependent. When Leroy Hill gets a tackle, Tatupu might have jammed the fullback and Aaron Curry contained the cutback lane. The tackle is typically the easy byproduct of team execution. On the first snap, Hawthorne jumped back and out of position. He did exactly same on the next snap, perhaps anticipating pass. His linebackers in smash did their job, but Hawthorne was sealed out by bad anticipation and a poor angle to the ball carrier. He made both tackles, the first after seven, the second after eight.
Hawthorne took a bad angle on a toss right to Aaron Brown. He couldn't bluff his way back into the action this time and Jordan Babineaux cleaned up after 19. Hawthorne didn't stand out on the next play, but he was all to apparent on the interception. Seattle got excellent pressure from its front three, and thankfully for us, Patrick Kerney shielded Stafford's vision before Stafford chucked an interception to Deon Grant. Behind Kerney, wide open in the middle stood Casey Fitzsimmons, open, open where Hawthorne had failed to drop. As the camera panned to Grant running under the pick, it was obvious a better quarterback would have found Fitzsimmons for the first.
If you're the right age, you probably remember thinking Michael Boulware was a superstar safety in the waiting. He had that Babineaux knack to be where the action was. In two seasons he had nine interceptions, three forced fumbles, three sacks and a touchdown return. His play was noticeable, electric, and terrible. Boulware couldn't read a route or defend play action. He was around tips but not in throwing lanes, he was a good blitzer, but absent in deep cover. Seattle never mustered much of a pass defense with Boulware and when Ruskell deigned to remake the secondary, Boulware was shipped out, benched by the Texans and then run out of the league.
Hawthorne is auditioning for a starting role, be it at MLB in Seattle, OLB in Seattle or LB somewhere else. His highs are exciting and his lows too subtle for most fans. His weaknesses reading an offense are apparent, but he's young. He could improve his execution and awareness with experience, and soon combine what he already has, playmaker potential, with what he needs to start. But I beg, before we pit these two young linebackers in combat, let's be sure the apprentice is good and not just bumbling his way into big plays.