As rookie Dexter Davis and free-agent veteran Tyjuan Hagler continue to make plays, they’re making things difficult – in a good way – at an already-crowded position for the Seahawks.
One was selected in the seventh round of the NFL draft, as a defensive end. The other was signed two weeks ago, after a rash of injuries left the Seahawks with barely enough linebackers to practice.
One obviously never has played in the league. The other is a former starter, for a perennial playoff team.
Both made big plays in the Seahawks’ three-point preseason loss to the Green Bay Packers at Qwest Field on Saturday night. Each is playing for a spot on the 53-man roster.
Just call this a tale of two linebackers, and one worth exploring as the Seahawks begin preparation for their third preseason game – and first on the road – against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday night.
Dexter Davis is the rookie who has made the transition to strong-side linebacker since joining the Seahawks in April, but still steps up to play rush-end in the nickel – the role in which he excelled while collecting 31 sacks in 50 career starts at Arizona State. Saturday night, he got his second sack in as many games, but this one was a fumble-forcing hit on Packers backup QB Matt Flynn in the third quarter and Davis also recovered the loose ball to setup a field goal. The play was one of his six tackles.
Tyjuan Hagler is the former starter for the Indianapolis Colts who joined the Seahawks on Aug. 10 during another flurry of roster activity – this move forced because linebackers Lofa Tatupu, Leroy Hill, Matt McCoy and Joe Pawelek were sidelined. Saturday night, Hagler intercepted a pass that was tipped by cornerback Roy Lewis on the second play of the second half and also had four tackles – plus another on special teams.
Needless to say, there two are making things interesting at the position where Tatupu and fellow starters Aaron Curry and David Hawthorne are locks; Hill has a sprained knee that continues to sideline him; Will Herring’s ability to step in at any of the three spots and play on special teams makes him a keeper; and McCoy’s experience and special teams contributions have him very much in the mix.
Is there room for both Davis and Hagler? That would make eight players at a position where the team traditionally has carried six or seven.
“I’m really fired up for Dexter – he’s making a big statement about making the team and having a role on the club,” coach Pete Carroll said after the game. “He just kind of keeps doing it. There’s a lot of consistency as we see it, and it’s carrying over to the game. So we have to find a spot for that guy pretty quick here.”
Here’s what Carroll had to say about Hagler: “He continues to make plays. He’s a good football player. He played a lot for the Colts last year (seven starts before tearing a pectoral). He’s been a hit-and-run guy. I’m not surprised. He’s been in the league and started and played good football for a good team, so I’m not surprised at all. He’s just learning our stuff. He’s behind. It’s going to make anybody hesitant at times. He did a couple things and had some tackles (against the Packers).”
Davis has the edge in potential and upside; while Hagler has the upper hand in experience and proven production.
Davis is younger (23) and bigger (6-1, 244) than Hagler (28; 6-foot, 236). Each has played two positions – outside linebacker and rush-end for Davis; outside linebacker and middle linebacker for Hagler.
Here’s what they had to say about themselves, and their situations:
“It definitely makes me feel good,” Hagler said. “I’m starting to feel comfortable in the defense, and I’m just trying to get back to my form. I’m still not where I want to be, so I’ve got to continue to work and get better.”
Hagler played middle linebacker in the opener because Tatupu and Pawelek were out and McCoy was just coming back. Hagler had two solo tackles in the win over the Tennessee Titans.
“I played middle linebacker for like three snaps in one game with the Colts, so now I’m more comfortable because I’m back outside,” Hagler said.
In five seasons with the Colts, who selected him in the fifth round of the 2005 draft, Hagler started 17 games – seven in 2007, when he had a career-high 60 tackles; three in 2008; and seven last season, when he had 26 tackles.
As for Davis, he tackled the obvious in the locker room after the Packers game, when it was closer to Sunday morning than Saturday night.
“I’m still learning the linebacker position; I’m a work in progress,” he said. “But I’m taking steps every day and continuing to improve.”
It’s when Davis steps up to the line in the nickel that he returns to his comfort zone.
“That’s back to the old stuff, what I’m comfortable with the most,” he said. “Two sacks in two games is not bad, but there’s still some work I can do. I’ll watch the film, clean up a few things and continue to grow as a player.”
One that, like Hagler, is hoping to put down roots on the 53-man roster.