RENTON, Wash. – Jim Mora made it a point to pull aside David Hawthorne as the Seattle Seahawks started preparations for Chicago this week.
The message from the Seahawks head coach to his second-year linebacker: You have no choice but to be a leader.
“He was basically just telling me to take charge of the defense,” Hawthorne said. “It’s my defense and they have to listen to me while Lofa is gone. That’s my challenge for the week, to step up and be vocal and lead the guys.”
With middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu a question mark heading into Sunday’s game with the Bears thanks to an injured hamstring, the onus for running Seattle’s defense could be on the shoulders of Hawthorne, a 24-year-old who would be making his first NFL start.
Hawthorne would be one of two replacements in Seattle’s linebacking corps. Will Herring, plagued by injuries his first two seasons, stepped in last week for Leroy Hill, who is likely out until after Seattle’s bye week on Oct. 25 following groin surgery.
The only starter from the opener healthy enough to go for sure this week against the Bears is rookie Aaron Curry. That was part of Mora’s message to his team this week when he told them, “I don’t see starters, and I don’t see backups. I see football players. OK? So give me 45 football players on Sunday at 1:05, and let’s go.”
Hawthorne got his true welcome last week against San Francisco when Tatupu and his hamstring lasted just one series against the 49ers. Hawthorne’s playing time during his first season was entirely on special teams, although he did get a few minutes in Seattle’s 28-0 shutout of St. Louis to open the 2009 season.
Still, it was different when Hawthorne suddenly faced the pressure and responsibility in the first quarter last week of taking Tatupu’s role and being the leader of the entire defense.
It’s not an easy assignment for a young player with very little experience.
“It’s my job title. I’ve got to catch on to that,” Hawthorne said. “It’s a challenge right now.”
Last week Hawthorne finished with five tackles, but Seattle’s defense as a whole was gashed by 49ers running back Frank Gore, who ran for 207 yards and two scores on 16 carries.
Making corrections this week has been the main focus for defensive coordinator Gus Bradley with the Bears bringing talented back Matt Forte to town. But even with Tatupu a question, the Seahawks won’t change anything if Hawthorne is the guy in the middle.
“We’re just going to keep going. (Hawthorne) is experienced enough to where he’s got some game reps preseason and gotten some opportunities to play, but we’re not going to let that slow us down,” Bradley said. “The first day we put things in compared to now, we’re seeing that improvement. We’re not letting up at all.”
Herring is just thrilled to finally be on the field, even if being asked to take the spot of Hill for the next month is a challenge. Now in his third season, Herring is the healthiest he’s been since being a fifth-round draft pick out of Auburn in 2007.
His rookie season, Herring played through a bothersome knee injury. Last year, Herring missed the first half of the season with a condition that caused chronic joint inflammation. He returned later in the year and made his first career start at the end of the season.
Last Sunday against San Francisco, in his second start, Herring had five stops. Even with all the injuries, Herring is confident all the backups can step in and perform without Seattle’s defensive stars.
“Leroy is a great player and after being behind him for three years I know that there has got to be a level of play to match what he brings to a defense,” Herring said. “At the same time I’m very confident in my ability and the 10 guys around me.”
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