ASHBURN, Va. (AP) - Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden made it clear he wants more from Jason Hatcher.
Gruden said the high-priced free agent is “playing pretty well, but he is not playing at the dominant level we need him to play at.”
On Thursday, Hatcher conceded that his coach has a point.
“I’ve just got to find a way,” the veteran defensive lineman said, “to be the dominant player they signed me to be.”
Among the many disappointments for the Redskins (3-6) this season has been lack of a consistently formidable pass rush. That seemed so inevitable when Hatcher was signed as a free agent to join outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan in what was touted as a more aggressive scheme under defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.
But Hatcher, who parlayed a career-high 11 sacks with the Dallas Cowboys last year into a four-year, $27.5 million contract with the Redskins, has just four sacks through nine games - and 2 1/2 of those came in the Week 2 rout over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“When we have third down and 5 and 6 and 7, we need him to get pressure in the quarterback’s face consistently,” Gruden said. “And that hasn’t been the case.”
Overall, the Redskins had 10 sacks against the Jaguars. They’ve had only 13 in the other eight games combined. Kerrigan is having his usual productive season with 7 1/2 sacks, but Orakpo managed only a half sack before he was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle in Week 7.
There are many reasons for Hatcher’s failing to become an instantly feared presence on the defensive line. Orakpo is no longer around to draw double-teams.
Nose tackle Barry Cofield has missed the bulk of the season with ankle and groin injuries. Quarterbacks taking advantage of young cornerbacks haven’t had to hold the ball as long.
Also, Hatcher had arthroscopic knee surgery in June and has been bothered most of the season by a hamstring injury that has left him noticeably limping at times.
Plus, he’s 32 years old and doesn’t have a history of being a dominant player - it just so happened that he, like many players before him, happened to have a dominant season in a contract year.
Hatcher has used none of those as excuses. He spoke Thursday about “getting off the ball and being disruptive” and winning one-on-one battles. The only mitigating factors he cited were Haslett’s game plans, which might not always play to Hatcher’s perceived strengths.
“If he puts me in situations that I can be myself, I’m going to go out there and be the best I can be,” Hatcher said. “If they don’t, I’ll just play the game plan. … He (has) a job to do and I have a job to do, so I feel like he’s the defensive coordinator, and he knows what he (has) in me as a player, so if he decides one week ‘I’m not going to use Hatch. I’m just going to let him be a decoy,’ then that’s what it is.”
Hatcher said it also takes some time to master a new scheme with new coaches and teammates.
“The more and more and more you learn about it, the faster you can play without thinking so much,” he said. “I think we’re getting there, I’m getting there, so I’ve just got to continue to learn when I can take chances in this defense, when I can be myself or when I’ve got to play the scheme. There’s always loopholes in every scheme, so I’ve just got to keep finding out when I just can get off and be me.”
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