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Originally published Wednesday, October 1, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Hawks' Leroy Hill finally making a name for himself in fourth season

Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill has shown big-play capability this season and now is not only a solid pass rusher but a growing threat as a run-stuffer.

Seattle Times

Sunday

Seahawks @ Giants, 10:05 a.m., Ch. 13

RENTON — In the fourth season of his NFL career, Leroy Hill still feels overshadowed. An afterthought. Overlooked.

These things drive the Seahawks linebacker. Something is working in his favor so far in 2008. Hill is the team leader in tackles with 19 solo, 25 total and is on pace to top his season best of 92 total tackles in 2006.

When healthy, Hill has been everything the Seahawks hoped for when they drafted him in the third round in 2005. He became a starter about halfway through his rookie year and set a team record for sacks by a rookie with 7 ½.

A bum shoulder limited him at the start of the 2006 season, but Hill led the team in tackles in each playoff game. Injuries to a foot and hamstring cost him two games in 2007, but the speedy Hill was still a tackling machine by season's end, with 11 solo stops against Washington and 10 at Green Bay in the postseason.

This season, Hill is off to a fast start, and had his best game two Sundays ago against St. Louis, when two of his 11 tackles were for losses.

"A lot more eyes are on me than last year," Hill said. "I was still doing my thing last year, too, a lot of people didn't realize. ... This year I'm just trying to trump that and do even better."

The Rams could hardly stop Hill from getting into their backfield. Hill has a bigger stage this week when the Seahawks go to New York to face the Super Bowl champion Giants.

Playing big in the marquee games, like this week's, will help Hill ascend to stardom, Seahawks linebackers coach Zerick Rollins said.

"The biggest thing right now is just maturity," Rollins said of Hill. "He's getting more confident, he knows what he's capable of and he's worked hard. As a rookie, you're just kind of playing off raw talent, just emotion. Now you can see that he's a seasoned player who understands how to be a professional, understands how to prepare."

Hill isn't often the first Seahawks linebacker mentioned in a conversation about that group. Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu and outside linebacker Julian Peterson have five Pro Bowls between them.

But Hill has shown big-play capability and now is not only a solid pass rusher but a growing threat as a run-stuffer.

"We came in together and it was me and him fighting for plays," Tatupu said, referring to 2005 when Tatupu was chosen in the second round. "He's been making plays ever since he got here.

"Me and Julian know how much he means to this defense. We never underestimate him or underappreciate his value to this team."

Tatupu said teams can't really stop Hill because they don't know exactly what to expect. Will he line up on the edge to blitz or fire into a gap to blow up a running play? Or something else?

"He has the speed to run with receivers but hasn't been coached to," Tatupu said. "Intermediate routes up to 20 yards. That's impressive."

Hill said he feels like he's coming into his own in his fourth year. The game is slowing down for him. Which in turn means the Seahawks might have to speed up contract negotiations with Hill's agent.

The team has big money tied up in contracts for Tatupu and Peterson. Tatupu got a six-year, $42 million deal in the offseason and Peterson signed for seven years and $54 million in 2006, both contracts including signing bonuses.

Hill is in the last year of his original four-year contract that paid him $1.94 million in base salaries. He hasn't been to the Pro Bowl, but his play has most certainly earned him a significant raise. The Seahawks would presumably like to get Hill re-signed before free agency starts in 2009.

"It's obviously in the back of my mind," Hill said. "All I can really do is go out and play my game. Obviously I would love to be in Seattle. Seattle's obviously my first choice. If they so choose to sign me back or talk extension or whatever, I'm definitely listening."

The team's stance on Hill's contract situation is this: It doesn't comment on negotiations or potential negotiations during the season.

If the contract differential between the linebackers isn't enough for Hill to feel overshadowed and overlooked, being the 98th player taken in the 2005 draft certainly is.

"I felt I was better than a lot of the guys that went before me at the linebacker position," Hill said, "but that's something that's out of my control. It was four years ago. A lot of teams passed on me, I think they passed up on a pretty good linebacker. Seattle grabbed me and I appreciate it."

José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or jromero@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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