Even if Leroy Hill had not been suspended for the season opener for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, we hear he would have been a long shot to be the starter in Week One at strong-side linebacker over David Hawthorne. Word is new LB coach Ken Norton Jr. said earlier this offseason that, as far as he was concerned, Hawthorne was the undisputed starter over Hill, who was told to steer clear of the team's first two minicamps while his off-field problems were being reviewed by the league and who worked solely with the second team in subsequent offseason practices. As for Hawthorne, who excelled last season after replacing the injured Lofa Tatupu at middle linebacker (team-leading 117 tackles in only 11 starts), we hear the arrow continues to point up. "He caught everybody by surprise last year and continues to elevate his game," said one daily team observer. "He's proven that he's not just a middle linebacker, and they are very happy with the way he has looked on the outside."
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