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The Return of Leroy Hill

I don't feel confident enough in my analysis skills from two years ago to talk much about Leroy Hill. I didn't get fully immersed into Seahawks football, completely, really, hard-core, until the end of the '09 season, so I must lean on what I've read and heard about him. Basically, from this, I understand he is (was) a decent to very good weakside linebacker, depending on who you talk to. Some say he was overrated, some say he was our best linebacker when healthy. At his peak, sometime in '08, Lofa Tatupu famously called him the Seahawks best linebacker, and that was out of a group that included Pro Bowlers Tatupu and Julian Peterson

You obviously can't take what Lofa was saying about his teammate as 100% truth, as he is talking about his teammate, but as he put it, "He's got the right combination - he hits with tenacious power, he runs to the ball, he can blitz, he can cover."

"(With) a lot of stuff, Julian (Peterson) makes look easy. But for Leroy, it just IS easy. Anything. You go from coverage, blitzing, open-field tackling. He's that good."

If you would have thought otherwise?

"That's for people who don't know football."

Though Lofa's probably spitting hyperbole, I have to believe he wasn't lying completely. From what I remember, Hill WAS pretty good. He's had a few months years to get his body healthy after running into a string of injuries before running into a string of arrests, and now he's got a big ole' chip on his shoulder to prove he's still the man. This could lead to good things. 

Hill was on the Calabro show last week, and had some cool things to say. He started out by addressing the elephant in the room -- his troubles with the law: "It's been a crazy two years. You know, getting arrested, then getting franchise tagged, then dropping the tag and getting a big contract, then getting arrested again and losing the contract, and it's been a whirlwind. All that's behind me. I'm done with everything, like I said it's behind me and I'm moving forward. I have a new minimum contract, and this year, I just see it as probation, and (I'm ready) to get back to it. I'm just ready for football, really."

"It was a big wakeup call. Just sitting at home a lot, just thinking. Wanting to play football, I know what I want to do, what I was basically put on this earth to do. I love the game, I love everything about the game, and not being able to play the game was one of the toughest things in my life. I know what I love now and I would never do anything to jeopardize that again."

Hill sort of seems like a relic of the old days at times, especially with the roster turnover in the past year, but then you realize that he's only 28. He could still start for the Seahawks, and if he plays well and keeps his nose clean, he can theoretically contribute for a few years. The Hawks are getting younger, but you need a guy here and there that has some experience to lead your team. The Seahawks know this, and they offered Hill a one-year deal at the veteran minimum.

Per Hill, "They said we need you healthy, we need to make sure you're straight, and we need you back in your old spot."

Is he ready?

"Just getting out on the field, I feel 100%. I'm ready to play, I can't wait until next week, when I can finally just play somebody else, other than my teammates. It's going to be like being a rookie all over again. I haven't started a game since the end of the 2009 season.

I got a chip so big on my shoulder I can barely carry it. I feel like a rookie again. I've been playing football straight for 18, 19 years. So to miss a whole year, it was one of the toughest things of my life.

I know my talents on the field, everyone knows my talents on the field. I didn't think i was going to have a problem just getting a job, but I do appreciate Seattle calling me, and I'm back and I do feel like it's a second chance. I'm going to take it like that."

Second chances are becoming a theme on the Seahawks roster -- Mike Williams and Leon Washington are the two success stories from last season but I feel like Leroy Hill could be this year's comeback kid. With the exit of Lofa Tatupu, David Hawthorne slides over to the middle linebacker spot. Without Hill manning the weakside, the Hawks would likely be relying on a hodgepodge of rookies or undrafted free agents to fill that role. Hill ostensibly gives you some breathing room. 

Whether he's a stop-gap for a year to get those rookies and UDFAs up to speed or a real part of this team going forward remains to be seen. He obviously has to make the roster first, but this could end up being one of the less glitzy but more important deals the Hawks' brass got done this offseason. 

Hill didn't have an overwhelmingly great first preseason game, but I'm not going to make any kind of judgement on a few plays by a guy that's been out of football for over a year. Danny O'Neil did a piece on Hill the other day as well and seems to think he'll be huge for the Hawks in 2011. He said:

"I was surprised when he was re-signed to a one-year deal, but after two weeks of practice, it's pretty clear this acquisition could turn out to be one of the best bargains of the entire NFL offseason. This is a linebacker who just two years ago was designated a franchise player, who is healthy and motivated to prove he still has a place in this league. Two years of off-field incidents and injuries have kind of overshadowed the reality that when he's healthy, he's a heck of a player."

Complicating the matter is the question of where Hill will play. I assumed it would be his "old spot," meaning weakside linebacker, but there's some thought he might move around. As Dukeshire and Thomas pointed out, Hill spent some time at the Sam linebacker spot against San Diego (with Curry at the WILL) and has some experience there in his career. This could just be shuffling in preseason, but could be, perhaps, a sign of things to come. It's something to watch.