- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 21, 2014

Behind the 6-foot-6 frame and 299 pounds of pass rush, there is an attitude that fuels Redskins defensive end Jason Hatcher.

Coaches like to say that players like Hatcher have a bit of an edge, or a mean streak. Hatcher said he is “a hard guy.” But perhaps veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall described him best.

“Just a dog,” Hall said. “Just a gangster, man. He’s unblockable.”

Before DeSean Jackson signed with the Redskins in April, there was a three-week period in which Hatcher was considered the team’s major offseason acquisition. After spending his first eight seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, Hatcher signed a four-year, $27.5 million contract with Washington in hopes that he would bring a rush-first presence to the interior defensive line.

On Saturday, the Redskins will get their first real look at that investment. Hatcher will suit up Saturday night in Baltimore for the first time since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in June. He was limited in practice for a week and missed the first two preseason games, but he was a full participant in practice Wednesday and Thursday.

Hatcher said he has had no soreness in his knee and his explosiveness at the line of scrimmage has completely returned.

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“The funny thing about it? I think it’s going to get better,” Hatcher said. “I think my quickness off the ball is going to be a lot better than it was last year. I can tell.”

The rehabilitation process limited what Hatcher could do on the field to stay sharp. So he said he spent his spare time in the weight room instead, building a more powerful base and stronger upper body. That additional strength could make a noticeable difference given Hatcher’s playing style, which according to outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan is more power than finesse.

“He’s someone who’s going forward,” Kerrigan said. “Not dancing with an offensive lineman.”

When Hatcher came off the physically-unable-to-perform list during training camp in Richmond, coach Jay Gruden did not mince words about the 32-year-old’s role on the defensive line. “We brought him here to rush the passer,” Gruden said.

Last year, Hatcher was one of the best in the NFL in that department. He racked up 11 sacks last season in Dallas, the most by any defensive tackle. By comparison, all of Washington’s defensive linemen combined for 5.5 sacks last year.

“We anticipate a lot [from Hatcher],” fellow lineman Chris Baker said. “He’s a hell of a player. It helps all of us out when you have a guy like that on the field.”

Hatcher has the ability and strength to create sacks on his own, but his presence will also create a ripple effect across the entire defense. He will draw attention from opposing offensive linemen, potentially opening up single-blocks for his linemates. And if the offensive line has to worry about an interior push, it will become more susceptible to an attack on the edge, courtesy of outside linebackers Kerrigan, Brian Orakpo and Trent Murphy.

The Redskins drew criticism in the offseason for not doing more to bolster their secondary. They added veteran safety Ryan Clark, but otherwise did not change a defensive backfield that ranked 20th in opponent passing yards last year. However, players and coaches believe Hatcher’s pass-rushing ability also will help in that regard.

“If we can create pressure, it takes pressure off the secondary,” Kerrigan said. “So it all works together.”

Another strong season from Hatcher will mask many of Washington’s defensive woes. But what if he doesn’t meet the high bar he set for himself last season?

Before 2013, Hatcher had only been a starter for two seasons. He had never recorded more than 4.5 sacks in one year, and his solo tackles per season ranged from 27 in 2012 to nine in both 2009 and 2010. While he has improved with increased playing time, he is by no means a proven commodity.

The Redskins have pursued similar players before, most recently in signing Stephen Bowen and Barry Cofield in 2011. Cofield signed a six-year, $36 million deal and has recorded a combined 93 tackles and eight sacks in three full seasons. Bowen, who signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract, has struggled with knee injuries and is currently on the physically-unable-to-perform list.

Hatcher said he is not worried about meeting the expectations placed upon him this season. He does not monitor his statistics, or create specific goals for himself from one season to the next. The pressure, in his mind, is not really pressure.

“I like my team to depend on me,” Hatcher said. “I like to put stuff on my shoulders. I’m a hard guy. I can take the pressure. It don’t feel like pressure at all. It just feels like where I’m supposed to be at, and what I’m here for.”

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