Starter: David Hawthorne
Alternate: Leroy Hill
In the mix: Matt McCoy, Will Herring, Tyjuan Hagler
Crowded field, eh? This makes sense if you think of it like this:
Hill could overtake Hawthorne.
Hill is suspended at least one game.
Hawthorne is still the primary backup for Tatupu.
So weakside linebacker depth is also middle linebacker depth.
And the starter is still undetermined.
Hawthorne might be better than Hill in 2010, but in seasons past Hill has been better than Hawthorne has ever been, so Hill is still perceived to be the better player. That is a common mistake made when evaluating talent in the NFL. Players are always changing. In 2007, when Maurice Morris was far and away a better player than Shaun Alexander, many couldn't wrap their heads around that fact, because Alexander had been an MVP and Morris had never even been a starter. Well, the Alexander of 2007 was not an MVP, was not the Alexander of 2005 or even 2006, and Morris, a career backup, was significantly better than Alexander. Hill might have been better, but that doesn't guarantee he will continue to be better than Hawthorne.
In this system, the weakside linebacker needs range and cover ability. Hill is better at exploding down hill and is the better linebacker at defending against passes to the running back. Hawthorne is a little more agile, better overall in cover, better at covering tight ends and receivers and backs running more complex patterns, a similar caliber blitzer to Hill, and much less likely to be thrown in jail in the next few months.
Starter: Mt. Tatupu
Backup: David Hawthorne
In the mix: Joe Pawelek
Not much to discuss here. Pawelek was a very accomplished linebacker at Baylor and though his tools are lacking, he wouldn't be the first middle linebacker to overcome lacking tools through skill, hustle and fearlessness.
Starter: Aaron Curry
Depth: Leroy Hill
In the mix: Dexter Davis
I wouldn't trust anyone but Curry, Hill or Davis to play strongside linebacker. Hopefully Curry stays healthy and plays nearly every snap. Hill makes sense as emergency depth. Davis is mostly a situational pass rusher. He has some skills in coverage, but if he isn't rushing the passer, he isn't playing to his abilities.
Apart from the tangle at weakside linebacker and the pending legal status of Leroy Hill, linebacker is easy to project. I project Seattle to start the season with Hawthorne, Tatupu, Curry, McCoy and Herring, and then to drop one of Herring or McCoy if and when Hill is reinstated.