We will be featuring a different Washington Redskins player each day on this list, staying away from rookies or some second-year players still finding their way. This will focus primarily on veterans at or near a career crossroads. Today: Defensive end Jason Hatcher.
Why he has something to prove: Because he was a high-profile signing by a defense in need of help. Also Hatcher is coming off a career year with 11 sacks and must show it wasn’t a fluke. The Redskins’ coaching staff felt Hatcher gave them more fits than any interior rusher last season because of his quickness and his hands. Hatcher was not as big a pass-rush threat while serving as a 3-4 defensive end, though he had a combined 8.5 in his past two seasons at that spot (when he became a full-time starter). By comparison, all the Redskins’ linemen have combined for 8.5 sacks in the past two seasons (they did have 17 in 2011. But as their production waned the past two years so, too, did the pass rush. Stephen Bowen has one sack the past two seasons combined). Still, Hatcher must show that last season was not an anomaly. The Redskins targeted him because of what he did against them and others. They also needed to diversify their rush, and the outside rushers, Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, received little to no help from the interior. That left offenses able to focus more on them.
What he must do: The same as he did last season. The notion that he only had a big season because of Dallas’ switch to a 4-3 and now that he’s back in a 3-4 he’ll do nothing is misguided. The Redskins used their nickel pass rush about 70 percent of the time last season; that alignment is more of a 4-3 look with two interior rushers. Hatcher would be the main rusher in their fast nickel set, which features three outside linebackers. In other words, he will be used mostly as a rusher inside just like he was a year ago -- but he does have the ability to pressure from end, too. I don’t know about him getting double-digit sack totals again; in fact I’d be a little surprised. But if he got even eight that would qualify as a big improvement. He needs to be a threat and have the ability to collapse the pocket.
Projection: Starting right end. The worry is that Hatcher is now coming off arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. That puts him in jeopardy of missing the start of training camp. And the question will be: What is the lingering effect? He’ll be 32 when camp opens, so there has to at least be some concern about his durability. The Redskins need to have good depth at end so they can save Hatcher on run downs if need be and use him in pass situations.