You couldn’t miss David Hawthorne last season. He came from out of nowhere, found himself in the middle of everything, and responded by making every tackle.
OK, he didn’t make every tackle for the Seattle Seahawks; it just seemed that way because he hit ballcarriers with twice the normal force and violence.
When regular middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu returned to health this season and reclaimed his position, Hawthorne was asked to move to weak-side linebacker. And somewhat quietly, he is now closing in on his second straight 100-plus tackle season.
His 90 tackles are 11 more than anybody else on the defense (Lawyer Milloy is next at 79). And after a statistically moderate early season, Hawthorne has hit stride in his new position so well that he’s averaged almost 10 tackles a game since the start of November.
“He has really natural instincts … he gets the game,” coach Pete Carroll said. “It comes easy to him. He’s a natural football player – hitter and tackler. There’s nothing that you ask a linebacker to do that David can’t do.”
So they’ve done exactly that, asked him to do just about everything.
“It was different for me in the beginning,” he said of his move to outside linebacker. “I was seeing the field from a different perspective and covering things from a different angle. It was a new start at a new position. You take every new experience you put in your book. And as the season has progressed, I’ve gotten more and more comfortable.”
While Carroll contends the game comes easily for Hawthorne, finding a home on the Seahawks defense did not.
Although he stacked up good numbers as a three-year starter at TCU, his relative lack of size (6-foot, 246 pounds) caused him to go undrafted. As a free agent, though, he started filling preseason games with a series of gee-whiz hits. He brought such competitive fire that teammates started calling him “Heater.”
But it was his aggressive work on special teams that was most responsible for earning him a roster spot as a rookie.
Backing up Tatupu last season, he was thrust into the lineup when the veteran went down. Hawthorne responded to his first start by making 16 tackles against the Chicago Bears – the third-highest tackle total in franchise history.
This season, he’s started all 14 games on the outside.
Although the Seahawks defense is still among the worst in the league in total yards, it displayed much-improved tackling in Sunday’s loss to Atlanta. The talented Falcons ran away with the game, but they only averaged 2.6 yards per rush.
“(The staff) made a big emphasis on tackling … more detail, studying different techniques on film,” Hawthorne said. “He went around the league, and even back to his USC days, when (Carroll) was teaching a particular style of tackling. He was giving us some different tools to put in our tool box.”
They watched examples of teams trying to bring down Falcons back Michael Turner. Some bounced off his thick legs, others couldn’t bring him down by attacking too high.
“So we put more emphasis on getting arms around his legs and rolling him. It definitely worked.”
So much of it was the sort of things defenders have been taught for decades. But the refresher course came in handy.
“Sometimes as the season goes on, you get away from your fundamentals,” Hawthorne said. “I think coaches did a good job of bringing us back to fundamentals and stressing the details.”
One Hawthorne trademark symbolizes his toughness and his adherence to what has been called “hard-nosed” football: The man has a perpetual wound across the bridge of his nose.
With some 200 tackles in the past two seasons, though, he’s managed to stay relatively healthy. Nose aside, that is.
“Right now, I feel pretty good,” he said. “Throughout the season, you get some injuries that you bounce back from, and then sometimes you just get new injuries that make you forget the last injury. But I think I equipped my body pretty well to make it through the season.”
Hawthorne and the Seahawks defense face another challenge Sunday at Tampa Bay, against a Buccaneers’ offense that is No. 9 in the league in rushing.
“For us, this is like the playoffs … it’s win or go home,” Hawthorne said. “We’re fortunate enough to be in a position to control our own (postseason) destiny, and that’s what we’re focusing on, being ready to win this game.”