Danny O'Neil is reporting via twitter that Leroy Hill will be out until November 1. The downside is evident. Seattle loses one of its very best defenders, and one of its few reliable pass rushers. The Seahawks face a difficult schedule in the coming weeks. Losing a wingman that can crush the run and screen pass does not help. From a pure talent standpoint, Seattle is a worse team.
The upside requires thought. Hill was a free agent entering 2009. At that time, and with Julian Peterson still signed, I advocated not signing Hill, but working a linebacker platoon consisting of Will Herring and David Hawthorne. Instead, Seattle signed Hill, but mercifully to a contract it could opt out of.
Will Herring will take over Hill's snaps. Herring is not Hill's equal as a run defender, open field tackler, or blitzer, but as we have saw on Sunday and have seen through the preseason, Herring is a much better pass defender. He is aware and agile and has excellent ball skills.
Seattle faces five teams between now and the time Hill is expected to return. San Francisco is a traditional offense, beyond traditional, outdated, but Indianapolis and Arizona are pass-first. Chicago is a vertical-style and Jacksonville is a grind `em out, rush-first offense. Herring could be a better matchup against Arizona and Indianapolis.
Could a team replace a near-Pro Bowl linebacker with a converted safety and improve? That's the experiment. Research indicates pass defense dwarfs run defense in importance. Losing Hill is a blow to Seattle's run defense, but if Herring is a superior pass defender, it also could be a net improvement to Seattle's defense. We'll see, and we'll know a lot more about the importance of Leroy Hill to the Seattle Seahawks after the next five weeks.