Overview: Leroy Hill first appeared on the injury report in week 6 when he was probable with a knee injury. Box score skimmers and IDP players would agree, it was a season that started with such promise. Fans might see it as more of a small step back with frightening portents. Hill's next appearance on the injury list, this time doubtful with a neck injury, signaled the end of his season. It was the third consecutive season he missed time with injury.
What Went Right: Hill had tackles, lots of them. Absent strong contributions from Lofa Tatupu and the line, Hill was still strong against the run. He sort of played a surrogate middle linebacker in games Tatupu was clearly not himself, patrolling sideline to sideline and recording seven tackles for a loss. Hill makes quality tackles and though for the first time in his career he didn't force a fumble all season, he showed the same ability to run into his tackles and through the ball carrier that he's shown since college.
What Went Wrong: Hill's tackles numbers were up because Tatupu was at half-strength, Peterson was blitzing every other snap and Seattle was getting crushed and thus facing oodles of rushing attempts. Hill couldn't negotiate a zone to save his life. He blitzed less and when blitzing was often used as a blocker-buster or decoy.
Quintessential Game: Rams at Seahawks
Eleventh play of Saint Louis' first drive. Same drive. 3rd and 21 following an uncredited forced fumble by Peterson. Rams break 3 WR, SB. Seahawks 4-2 nickel. At the snap, Seattle rushes four but never accomplishes pressure. Dane Looker drags from the right to the left in a slow developing route. Seattle needs to collapse the pocket better, and that must be recognized. Seattle's secondary is in a zone, with Tatupu and Hill manning the right and left underneath zones, respectively. Looker flashes behind Hill. Hill only notices Looker after he's past him and has a clear route to the end zone. Marc Bulger targets Looker, Looker receives and scampers in for the score. A great goal line stop undone in a single play. There's blame to go around, but, ultimately, Hill has to keep the receiver ahead of him. Allowing Looker to streak behind him from the offensive right is exactly the kind of unaware zone play that caps Hill's potential.
Outlook: Seattle would be better off without the Leroy Hill that took the field in 2008. It wasn't all his fault, because he was used wrong -- almost blindly wrong. That Hill was bad enough in cover to offset his run-stopping prowess, and continued a trend of diminishing contributions as a blitzer. The essential Hill is intact. He has a handful of exceptional skills: He wrap-tackles. He's super-quick. He negotiates garbage. He's agile. He tracks running plays. He's a punishing hitter. Gus Bradley shouldn't have trouble finding uses for his skill-set, but then neither should have John Marshall. Hill should blitz multiple times a game. He should cover running backs and preferably only on screen-passes. He should be subbed out in most nickel formations. Marshall used Peterson to blitz and that left Hill staring at the quarterback as opposing receivers ran practice drills about him. Hill may not be versatile, but he doesn't need to be a Swiss army knife linebacker to be extremely valuable. He just needs to be used right.