This article will be hard for me to write. I live on the east coast and only was able to watch about three-quarters of the games this year, and was forced to suffer through watching dots and listening to broadcasts via NFL network for the rest. That aside, I feel as though there is one thing I learned watching the Hawks this season: the linebacking corps is a confusing bunch.
Let's start with Aaron Curry, the fourth overall pick in the draft, two years pro now. Has he lived up to his draft position? No, he has not. Is he a bust? Again, I say no, but I clarify it with an additional statement: not yet.
Curry has underperformed thus far, and as far as draft picks go, one has to wonder if we would have been smarter to pick Clay Matthews or Brian Orakpo (a personal favorite of mine) instead of Curry by trading down and also gathering more picks in that draft. It was a rebuilding year, and a natural question is whether or not it was smart to attempt to strengthen what was considered our largest strength to begin with.
Was it the right pick at the time? I think so. Looking back, was it still? I hesitate to answer but say yes, it was. Curry has shown flashes of brilliance in his time playing in the league. Has he made rookie mistakes? Yes, and they continued into his second year. He also was benched by Mora the first year in a foolish move that cost him experience and confidence going forward, but that is another story entirely.
Curry is a physical freak, the kind that Al Davis drools over. But he seems to lack the knowledge of the game that one looks for in a leader of a defense. At No. 4 overall, a linebacker should possess that. In that sense, Curry is a bust.
However, if the pressure is removed from him, if he is given an assignment or asked to blitz, Curry shines, and when decisions do not need to be made by him, he excels and his physical gifts are put on display. He flies to the ball carrier and (though sometimes he lapses and misses a tackle) punishes whoever that person might be.
I think he could be the perfect LEO end if he were to add to his frame, but at this point and time, his instincts do not seem conducive of being the outside linebacker in our defense (though they are improving.)
On to Lofa Tatupu, the other serious question mark of our linebacker corps. Before I start this section, let me just add that Lofa Tatupu is my favorite player on the Hawks. Plain and simple. That said, he has not been consistently good for a few years now. He seems to have lost the ability to be the "quarterback of the defense", as he used to be described.
He seemed slower in the past years and his size, which was a question when he was drafted, has also shown to be disadvantageous for him as he seems to be more brittle than the "elite" linebackers in the NFL. Numerous injuries have sidelined Tatupu, and it has crippled our defense. Tats is tough; he played all season with two knees that ended up needing surgery. My question is, how long can he keep it up?
Everyone gets run down and beat up eventually; there is only so much a person's body can take until it gives out. When that happens, do we want him to be on the team and to bring it down with him?
That would be a horrible blow to our rebuilding process. This statement, even to me, seems like heresy. How can I even think to get rid of Tatupu? I was not kidding that he is my favorite player, not just on the Hawks but in the NFL!
I simply feel that his inability to stay healthy and his large contract, combined with declining play, mean that we should not stop ourselves from pursuing a new option at MLB, whether that be internally or through free agency/draft.
The other outside linebacker, Leroy Hill/David Hawthorne. I think Hawthorne should be more middle than outside because that is where he is best. So that leaves Hill...The pot-smoking, violent linebacker who cannot seem to stay on the field long enough to be an asset. He needs to be replaced. End of story.
To sum up:
Curry needs time to develop, but could be a great player given the right role in the defense.
Tatupu is getting older and brittle, and could hurt the rebuilding process. It hurts to say this, but maybe we need to let him go (via trade, we could get a second rounder). Hawthorne or a free agent could take his spot in the middle, but someone would need to fill the leadership position.
Hill needs to go. He is a bad influence on the rookies and not even on the field anyway. He does not deserve the paycheck that the Hawks give him. Hope he goes or comes back for minimum.