RENTON - At the start of this season, the Seattle Seahawks expected a young linebacker to have a breakout season, piling up 15 tackles in some games.
But the consensus would have been that the performance would come from first-round draft pick Aaron Curry, not surprising injury fill-in David Hawthorne, who arrived as an undrafted free agent before last season.
When the subject of Curry arises, people speak of learning curves and the psychological and physical “wall” that rookies hit in the latter part of the season.
After some impressive performances early, Curry has had a mere five tackles in the past two games, and has had a shrinking role in the defensive scheme.
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Although the fourth player taken in the draft might be expected to better sustain his impact, nobody is worried about Curry in the long term.
“We’re not disappointed in him at all,” Seahawks coach Jim Mora said. “In fact, we’re encouraged by the things he shows athletically, physically and mentally. … He’s a quick learner. Every rookie goes through it, with the rare exception. You just have to help him; sometimes helping him means dialing it back just a little bit to regroup, and then you push him on to the next level.”
Last week against Minnesota, that meant getting him off the field on some passing downs and letting him focus more on first- and second-down responsibilities.
Curry’s blend of speed, athleticism and instincts flashed at times this season, and big plays were the result. And often, he’d erupt in arm waving and crowd inciting afterward.
The excitement made it hard to focus on mere gap control or back-side pursuit angles on the next play.
“I got to the point where I was chasing down big plays and doing too much over-analyzing,” he said. “I was doing too much (beyond) my responsibilities. It’s been a mental thing as far as me being eager to make big plays and forgetting about exactly what my responsibility is.”
At times, you’ll see him race to make the big play only to lose the proper inside-out positioning, and have to watch the ballcarrier or receiver cut back inside him.
Linebacker Leroy Hill said it’s a common mistake by the young and hyper-enthused. “You want to make the play so bad and have fans start screaming your name that you get out of position,” Hill said. “With all that excitement and adrenaline, there’s some things that can go wrong pretty quickly.”
Hill played a great deal as a rookie, but he said he never faced the pressure that Curry had as the fourth overall pick. And there was one other big difference in Hill’s rookie season of 2005. “We were winning,” he said. “At (that) point, we were 8-2. There was a whole different atmosphere.”
Mora said that Curry’s effort and intensity have been admirable and unwavering.
The answer, Curry said, was in “learning to manage myself.” Mostly, that means making the plays that are his to make, and not trying to make every tackle.
The best advice he’s received? “Anything that Lofa (Tatupu) has told me,” Curry said of the injured Pro Bowl middle linebacker.
Yes, and what is the gist? “Just playing and not worrying about making mistakes,” Curry said. “The situation the team is in (3-7) means that everybody’s mistakes are going to be magnified. (I need) to just get back to my old self and get back that edge of how I used to play.”
Mora pointed out that Curry is just 22 years old; he’s gone through the draft, signed a big contract, moved across the country, gotten married, had a child, and then been thrust into the starting lineup of a team in desperate need of a playmaker.
“What we want to do is give him the best chance to have success … not only this year, but in his career,” Mora said. “There is a learning curve that all these rookies go through; we’re just going to make sure we do it the right way for this guy so he can have success.”
Hill said he’s seen Curry struggle at times with assignments, sure. But he’s also seen some very special attributes.
“On the field … he’s unreal,” Hill said. “I really enjoy playing with him. He’s going to be a great player in this league.”
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440