After 30 months of injuries, indiscretions and uncertainty, linebacker Leroy Hill not only is back with the Seahawks, he’s back at the starting weakside spot where he made so many plays earlier in his career.
Discussing Leroy Hill’s current situation with the Seahawks quickly turns into a conversation punctuated with lot of laughs and even more smiles.
And it’s nice to see, after what the veteran linebacker has been through the past 30 months – from his violent goal-line collision with Cowboys running back Marion Barber in a Week 13 that ended his 2008 season; to the groin injury that cost him five games early in the 2009 season; to the Achilles injury that ended his 2010 season after only one game; to the indiscretions that led to his one-game suspension by the league last season.
Talk about piling on. But watching Hill whirl around the practice field at the Seahawks training camp and seeing the way he’s carrying himself – off the field, as well as on – it all seems like it happened to someone else. Except that it didn’t.
“There was a lot of off-field stuff going on that could drag you down,” Hill said the other day. “I had a lot of stuff on my mind. But everything is behind me.
“Now, I’m comfortable, I’m happy, I’m clear-minded.”
And, he’s back at the weakside linebacker spot he played – and played so well – earlier in his career.
“It’s definitely sweeter to be back after what I’ve been through,” he said. “There was so much uncertainty. But when the uncertainty clears up, now I can just get back to focusing on what I love to do.”
That’s where the laughs and smiles come in.
Hill, a third-round draft choice in 2005, is still around – one of only two players left from the ’05 Super Bowl team. Lofa Tatupu, a second-round pick that year, three-time Pro Bowl selection and only player in franchise history to lead the team in tackles four consecutive seasons, is not – having been released last month.
“It’s crazy. It’s unreal,” Hill said with a smile and then a laugh. “But it is what it is. It’s a crazy business – and I think me still being here and Lofa being gone proves it. Now, I’m the old guy in the (meeting room) after everything I’ve been through.
“I accept that role. It’s all good. It’s cool. All I can do is try to move forward and bring the young guys with me.”
David Hawthorne, who made the club as a rookie free agent in 2008, has replaced Tatupu at middle linebacker – after starting on the weakside and leading the team in tackles last season.
“You’ve got a former rookie free agent replacing a Pro Bowl middle linebacker, and now ‘Heater’ is helping me learn the position I used to play,” Hill said with another smile and another laugh while referring to Hawthorne by the nickname Tatupu gave him as a rookie.
“It’s definitely odd. It’s a crazy story.”
Crazy stuff, as Hill said, but the Seahawks are happy he’s still around after re-signing with the team on July 29.
“We were always planning to bring him back,” said general manager John Schneider, who rejoined the team in January of 2010. “We didn’t feel like he got a fair shake last year. It wasn’t really anybody’s fault – it wasn’t Leroy’s, it wasn’t ours’ – it was just the situation.
“So this year we wanted to say, ‘Hey, fresh start. Come on it. Turn the page. And we’ll move forward and see how it goes.’ ”
So far, it’s going great.
In addition to rediscovering his love of the game, Hill also has recaptured his panache for making plays. After all, he exploded on the scene with 7½ sacks as a rookie; produced a career-high 91 tackles in 2006; and followed that with 81-tackle seasons in 2007 and 2008, even though he missed the final four games in ’08.
In the preseason opener against the Chargers in San Diego last Thursday night, Hill made a couple of turn-back-the-clock plays – displaying the speed and violent collisions he brings to the defense.
“Like I said, I feel good,” he offered, with yet another smile and yet another laugh. “I’m clear-minded and I can focus on just playing football.”
While the position is familiar to Hill, the defense coach Pete Carroll brought with him last year isn’t.
“I’m still adjusting to a lot of the stuff,” Hill said. “But there are a lot of similarities to the defense I used to make a lot of plays in.
“When they call a lot of those defenses, I’m feeling Super Bowl year again.”
This also is the first Carroll has seen of the real Leroy Hill.
“I didn’t get a chance to see him before and there was talk about him being such a hard-nosed, tough guy,” Carroll said. “You always want that on the defensive side. You can never have enough tough guys on defense.”
Seeing has made Carroll a believer. “Leroy looks very comfortable,” Carroll said. “He had a great offseason. And it’s great because he’s so motivated, too. He really wants to prove a point that he belongs here.”
Now, Hill needs to help the Seahawks’ defense have a better season after it ranked 27th in the league last year.
“He’s physical, he’s fast, he understands the scheme and he understands the position well,” Carroll said. “He’s just going to get his timing down. He felt very good out there the first game. I think it’s great to have him back.”
Schneider agrees, to a point.
“Leroy is playing well. He’s doing a good job,” Schneider said. “He’s explosive. He’s always been a smart, instinctive, explosive player. I thought that showed in the game the other night. His toughness is off the charts.”
There has been, however, one problem.
“He jacked up my back the other day at practice,” Schneider said. “I had my back to the defense and was on the phone. He slammed into me going about 140 mph.
“So I don’t know if that’s bad karma or what.”
For Schneider, perhaps. Hill? Not so much. Not anymore. He’s now traveling through a good-karma zone.
“This,” Hill said through one last smile, “could be a great story.”