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John DeShazier: A healthy David Hawthorne is playing well for the New Orleans Saints

David Hawthorne has 24 tackles and two sacks for the New Orleans Saints this season

In terms of tone, the one set last Sunday by the New Orleans Saints defense was loud and clear, on two of Buffalo's first three offensive plays.

On the opening play Bills quarterback Thad Lewis lined up in shotgun formation, took the snap and darted left. After a 3-yard gain he was punished by linebacker David Hawthorne, with such force that the football popped free (it was recovered by New Orleans outside linebacker Junior Galette) and that Lewis stayed down (he walked off under his own power and didn't miss a play).

On Buffalo's second possession, after running back Fred Jackson sliced through for a 15-yard run, Lewis again received a snap in the shotgun. This time, Hawthorne poured through the line of scrimmage and tackled Lewis for a 6-yard sack.

They were two more examples of what Hawthorne is capable of when he's healthy, two more examples of why last season may be considered an injury-riddled aberration, two more reasons why the defense has functioned at a high level this season even though Jonathan Vilma, who was projected to start at Hawthorne's inside linebacker spot, hasn't yet played because of knee surgery.

Hawthorne already has more tackles (52) in seven starts this season than he had last season (43) in 10 starts and 11 games. He also has two sacks, a pass defensed and a fumble recovery after being shut out in those three categories last year.

He may have had his most impressive statistical game against the Bills, with eight tackles, the sack and forced fumble in New Orleans' 35-17 victory. But more, he has been a reliable factor all season after having minimal impact last year, when the joined the Saints as a free agent signee from Seattle who'd had three consecutive seasons of at least 105 tackles.

"I'm just happy to be healthy and happy to get the opportunity to go out there and do what I came here to do, and that's to help the defense and help the team," Hawthorne said.
"I think everybody in this locker room has had that moment where they just aren't quite right. And due to my injuries things didn't work out (last season). I just kept my head down and got back to doing what I know how to do, and that's come in and work."

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The work has paid off for Hawthorne, who twice has led or tied for the team lead in tackles in a game this year, and who also has logged time on special teams.

"He was injured last year, so (in) a healthy David Hawthorne, we are seeing a lot of what we saw on film when we signed him," Coach Sean Payton said. "He has been very consistent and quietly has done a very good job at the linebacker position.

"He has a good grasp of what we are doing from a scheme standpoint. He is a good tackler but I think the biggest thing is just seeing his productivity now that he is back healthy, compared to a year ago where he was."

Pretty much, it's a night and day difference.

"It's just me sticking to the script," Hawthorne said. "This is me always – this is me in Seattle, this is me in college (at TCU), this is just me. I come out and try to do my job to the best of my ability and everything else takes care of itself."

That includes holding on to a starting position.

With Vilma attempting to return in the next couple of weeks, the situation could arise where the valued veteran will be called upon to replace Hawthorne in the starting lineup. And the competitor in Hawthorne isn't quite ready to cede the spot.

"Ultimately that's why we play the game," he said. "Nobody comes in and says, 'I want to be a backup.' I don't think that's anybody's dream in life. (Starting) matters."

But being healthy and productive matter more and Hawthorne is both of those this season, much to the benefit of the Saints defense.

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