During his first seven seasons in the NFL, Seattle Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill never had to worry about being a leader.
Hill broke into the league with Lofa Tatupu, who handled those leadership duties from 2005 to 2010, and the Seahawks later turned to David Hawthorne. Tatupu and Hawthorne now are in the NFC South, making Hill the oldest among Seattle's projected starting linebackers. He's now taking on a leadership role, Dave Boling of the Tacoma News-Tribune writes.
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"I've never really had to do that; I usually just came in and played my position since there was always a leader," Hill said. "This year, the guys are looking up to me. I've never had to be that, but it's important to me and I'm taking on that role."
Arrests, suspensions and injuries cost Hill the 2010 season and several million dollars in lost income on a six-year, $36 million contract he had signed in 2009. Hill earned the league minimum ($685,000) during a bounce-back 2011 season, posting 89 tackles and four sacks, his highest sack total since his rookie season, when he recorded 7.5.
Hill was arrested for possession of marijuana in February, charges that would dropped a few weeks later after he passed a drug test. That might have scared off a few teams in free agency, but not the Seahawks, who re-signed Hill to another one-year contract, this one worth up to $2 million with $200,000 guaranteed.
A slimmed-down Hill believes the 2012 defense could be the best one he has been a part of during his Seattle tenure.
"Definitely, that's hand down," Hill said during a Wednesday appearance on "The Brock & Salk Show" on KIRO-AM. "Last year, we set the bar sort of high for ourselves, ending up in the Top 10. This year, we have 10 of 11 starters coming back. Losing Hawthorne -- not knocking Hawthorne, we'll definitely miss him -- but when you have that many starters coming back on a top-10 defense, we can only go higher. You know, and that secondary is scary.
"If we finish anywhere below where we did last year, it's going to be a disappointment to us," Hill said. "We want to jump into the top 5. We feel we have that much potential and that much talent on that side of the ball where we could really carry this team and let our offense develop."