During an ugly, sloppy football game best forgotten, Seahawks middle linebacker David Hawthorne had a day to remember against the Detroit Lions.
As flags were dropping for such inexcusable mistakes as too many men on the field and not enough men on the line, Hawthorne continued to reveal an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time.
On an afternoon struggling rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford got little help from his hands-of-stone receivers, Hawthorne displayed the surest touch on the field.
A backup middle linebacker starting for the injured Lofa Tatupu, Hawthorne has emerged as one of the few pleasant surprises of an otherwise frustrating first half of the season for the Seahawks. Another inspired Hawthorne effort Sunday at Qwest Field – two interceptions, three passes defended, and eight solo tackles in the Hawks’ 32-20 victory – showed that the talent gap between a three-time All-Pro from USC and an undrafted free agent from TCU is minimal.
Like Tatupu, his close friend and de facto assistant position coach, Hawthorne’s motor is powered by an urge to overachieve. Not that he isn’t an accomplished athlete, but an NFL middle linebacker his size – Hawthorne is listed at 6-feet and 240 pounds, and the 240-pound figure is generous – can be obliterated into irrelevance if he’s simply trying to make body-jarring hits.
“More than anything with David, it’s his work ethic,” Seahawks coach Jim Mora said of the second-year pro from Corsicana, Texas. “He really gets himself ready to play on Sundays. He’ll come out there sometimes on Wednesdays, and he’ll struggle a little bit with the calls – the things we’re doing differently in the game plan – but he’ll go home and spend four or five hours on his own, studying film, getting in the playbook, working at his craft.
“By the time we kick it off on Sunday,” continued Mora, “he is ready to go. And that gives him a chance to make plays.”
Studying is not a chore for Hawthorne, who earned his college diploma after his junior season at TCU. So he takes the game home with him after Gus Bradley’s defensive scheme is presented on Wednesdays.
“The rest of the week,” said Hawthorne, “I’m watching films and going over the game plan after dinner. Wednesday nights, Thursday nights, Friday nights, Saturdays at the hotel – I even did some studying when I woke up this morning.”
Before making the third start of his career, Hawthorne didn’t merely immerse himself in the Seahawks’ playbook. He watched video clips of the Lions to better identify Stafford’s tendencies when dropping back to pass.
“Just knowing the looks – it’s pretty much the same looks that the coaches gave us all week in practice,” said Hawthorne. “Then, when it happened in the game, it was just that much easier because we’d worked on it so much. I just had to step up and have a good finish.”
A good finish? Translation: On those occasions Stafford disregarded his big-gun arm and tossed lob passes that seemed to float down field, Hawthorne made it a point to catch the ball if he could. His second-quarter pick of a pass intended for tight end Brandon Pettigrew prevented the Lions from capitalizing on Jason Hanson’s field-goal range at the Seahawks’ 33-yard line.
Another Hawthorne interception, during the final minute of the third quarter, gave the Seahawks possession at their 44. Almost six minutes and 14 plays later, the offense produced its final score, an Olindo Mare field goal that gave Seattle a 25-17 lead.
Hawthorne was in position for a third interception when the Lions went into hurry-up mode after the two-minute warning. He got his hands up in time to deflect Stafford’s pass to wide receiver Calvin Johnson, but couldn’t hold onto the ball.
“David had a chance at three there at the end,” said Mora, who didn’t have much time to stew over the missed opportunity. Stafford’s next pass drifted into the grasp of cornerback Josh Wilson, who returned the Hawks’ fifth interception for a 61-yard score.
“He’s a young quarterback, and our game plan was to try to distract him,” said Hawthorne. “He’s going to be a good quarterback in this league, and I feel like he is a good quarterback, but I think our game plan worked today.”
As Hawthorne chatted with reporters in the locker room, it was difficult not to notice the open gash on the bridge of his nose – a memento from the Seahawks-Bears game on Sept. 27, when he made his first career start. He finished that afternoon with 16 tackles (third-highest total in franchise history), an interception, and, most important, a belief that he belonged.
“Before Chicago, I didn’t know I had what it takes to be a middle linebacker in the NFL,” he said. “The football part of it, that was a given. But the position was still a little new to me. Then I realized I could compete at this level.”
Hawthorne showed Sunday that he can do more than simply compete.
He showed how it’s possible to elevate an awful football game into a primer on how to succeed in this business by really, really trying.