From big hitter to a big hit

Posted Nov 5, 2009

David Hawthorne’s rapid development has been timely for the Seahawks with Pro Bowl middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu out for the season.

He arrived as a big hitter with a chip on his shoulder. Now, David Hawthorne is the Seahawks’ starting middle linebacker who is making better use of the head on his shoulders.

That seems to be the best way to describe Hawthorne’s rapid development from a rookie free agent who was looking to blow up anything that crossed his path last season to the more cerebral player who is making life without Lofa Tatupu more tolerable as the Seahawks prepare for Sunday’s gotta-have-it game against the Detroit Lions at Qwest Field.

“The biggest difference, I would have to say, is my knowledge of the game,” Hawthorne said after practice. “My knowledge of what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to do it has increased through my experience and being able to play.

“And I don’t feel like I need to be as reckless. I still play with that mentality. But last year, I feel like I was making up for a lack of knowledge by just going out there 100 miles an hour and just trying to be a wrecking ball.”

Now, that wrecking ball is more focused, but still wreaking havoc.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” he said. “I understand the scheme better, and I’ve still have that physical style of play.”

What Hawthorne has done during the team’s 2-5 start is the pigskin version of what Hideki Matsui just did for the New York Yankees – which is, making the most of whatever opportunities come his way.

When Tatupu was out with a strained hamstring in the Week 3 game against the Chicago Bears, Hawthorne had 16 tackles – which tied him for the third highest total in franchise history – and an interception.

In Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, two days after Tatupu had been placed on injured reserve following season-ending surgery to repair a torn pectoral, Hawthorne had two sacks among his eight tackles, forced a fumble that setup the Seahawks’ second touchdown and deflected a pass.

Despite his limited playing time – roughly 16 quarters, or the equivalent of four of the team’s seven games – Hawthorne is third on the team in tackles (34) behind free safety Jordan Babineaux (42) and linebacker Aaron Curry (39).

Who would have thunk it? Tatupu, for one, and linebackers coach Zerick Rollins for another.

“Dave has taken that next step, and I think the only thing left for him is just experience,” said Tatupu, who then added with a laugh, “I’m not happy he’s getting it, because that means I’m on the shelf. But I’m very proud of the linebacker he has become.

“He’s made the transition from just being a big hitter to being a linebacker.”

Hawthorne has become that linebacker, in part, because of his natural skills – the ability to slip blocks, rather than run around them; his quickness; his instincts.

“Dave is such a naturally gifted athlete, as far as slipping blocks, and rarely does it ever put him out of position,” Tatupu said. “Some people, they run around blocks, and there’s a big difference. He’ll just slip it. Someone puts their hands on him, he’ll just slip and get through.

“And I’m not as quick as Dave, and his make-up speed is better than mine.”

But Hawthorne also has become a starting-caliber linebacker, in part, because of coaching.

“ ‘Z’ (Rollins) has done a fantastic job teaching Dave how to be a little more patient, but still not taking him out of his game,” Tatupu said.

Rollins returns the respect, shares the credit and agrees on what it is that has allowed Hawthorne to make the leap from big hitter to a big hit as Tatupu’s replacement.

“First off, he has been under a great player in Lofa Tatupu,” Rollins said. “Any time you can study under him and you’re watching and paying attention – and he’s been a really good learner that way – it’s beneficial.

“The biggest thing for David is just learning how to play the game at this level. He’s always been a very instinctive, very physical player. It’s just a matter of learning how to play at this level, understanding offenses and how they operate. He’s done a great job at that.”

As productive as Hawthorne has been, the coaches are asking for more. During practice this week, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has been extolling “Heater” – as everyone calls Hawthorne – to pick up the tempo getting in and out of the huddle; make his pre-snap reads and calls quicker; and force the action once the ball is snapped.

 Tatupu isn’t letting up on his protégé, either, as coach Jim Mora noticed when he got to work Tuesday morning.

“When I walked into the defensive backs meeting room, Lofa Tatupu was sitting with Aaron Curry and David Hawthorne watching Detroit film,” Mora said. “Lofa’s here for those guys still.”

No one appreciates Tatupu’s presence more than Hawthorne.

“Having a guy like that, I mean Lofa is a tremendous leader,” Hawthorne said. “I wouldn’t want it any other way. He’s a professional, in every sense of the word. And knowing that I’m a young guy filling in for him, he wants to give me as much knowledge as he can from his experience so I can do my best.”

This is new for Hawthorne, and not just because he’s stepping in for a three-time Pro Bowl player and five-time defensive co-captain. Hawthorne was a rover his senior season at Corsicana (Texas) High School. At Texas Christian University, he played in a 4-2-5 scheme.

Corsicana is roughly 50 miles from Dallas, so Hawthorne’s impressive effort against the Cowboys was seen by “a whole truck load of people who were there,” as he put it.

“It was a bad experience because we lost, but it was a good feeling to see my family and friends,” he said.

And be seen by them taking yet another step in his impressive development.