You can call Jason Hatcher a late bloomer and question why the Redskins gave so much money this offseason to a veteran who, at age 31, had a career year in a different defensive system.
But the former Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman won’t hear what you have to say.
“I don’t read the media,” Hatcher said on Wednesday during Washington’s latest round of organized team activities (OTAs) this month. “That’s all new to me. I’m going to pretend like I didn’t hear it and keep working.”
Last season, for a Dallas team that had switched to a 4-3 system, Hatcher recorded 11 sacks. That was more than any Redskins player achieved. It also was way above his previous career best (4.5) and came after playing seven years in a 3-4 alignment. That’s where the 6-foot-6, 299-pounder will be again this season after signing a four-year, $27.5 million contract with Washington.
For now, Hatcher is just trying to adjust to his new surroundings. He appreciated that outside linebacker Brian Orakpo tried to push his energy level on a hot June day at Redskins Park.
“[Orakpo] said ‘Hatch, I see it in your eyes. You’re tired, It’s hot out here,’” Hatcher said. “He got me going. You need guys like that around you to keep you accountable.”
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Hatcher will primarily play defensive end in Washington’s base 3-4 defense, a return to his roots. But the Redskins also mix in a lot of varied 4-3 sets under defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, especially on passing downs when there are five defensive backs on the field.
That should allow Hatcher to employ his pocket-crashing abilities on the interior, something that was too often missing from Washington’s defensive ends last season. Orakpo led the team with 10.5 sacks at outside linebacker and Ryan Kerrigan, another outside linebacker, had eight. But the Redskins were too predictable with their pressure. Can Hatcher keep up that production and help solve that problem?
“They’re going to do a lot of what they did with me in Dallas,” Hatcher said. “They’re not going to take my strengths away. They know what I do. Why would they let me do something else? I wouldn’t be here if they didn’t let me play to my strengths.”
But Washington still looked like an odd fit for Hatcher, who took over for an injured Jay Ratliff at defensive end in Dallas last season and in that new role was able to put up big numbers. Is he that player or closer to the 2011 and 2012 version who totaled 8.5 sacks in those two seasons? Either way, his presence gives a different look to the line and a defense that wants to be far more aggressive than last season, when opponents routinely shredded it.
“Great quarterbacks — Peyton Manning, Tom Brady — if you’re vanilla, they will kill you,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said after his team’s first OTAs session on May 29. “So we have to be exotic a little bit here and there, but also be sound in what we do. Right now the OTA goal is to be sound defensively, know our system and then as we branch off maybe add a few elements to our pass rush or secondary.”
On Wednesday, Washington’s defensive players routinely tried to jump the snap count during drills against the offense. It was a small part of an offseason practice, but shows the emphasis on aggression.
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Hatcher joins a team that finished 3-13 last season and in last place in the NFC East. But he remembers the squad that beat Dallas twice in 2012 en route to a division title and a playoff berth.
That offense was, at times late in the season, unstoppable. The Cowboys saw that firsthand in a 28-18 loss at FedEx Field in a winner-take-all game the last day of the season. That memory and the signing of star wide receiver DeSean Jackson convinced Hatcher that Washington can rebound quickly from last year’s disaster under a revamped coaching staff led by Gruden.
“This offense can be very explosive and just with a few missing pieces on defense,” said Hatcher, who is close friends with Redskins defensive lineman Stephen Bowen from their days together in Dallas. “I’ve played against these guys every year with the Cowboys and I knew what kind of team we could be. I wouldn’t go to a team if I knew we didn’t have a chance to win.”