Opportunity knocks for Jason Hatcher

SAN ANTONIO – Defensive end Jason Hatcher hoped to earn more playing time. He didn’t want it to happen like this, but he plans to take advantage of the opportunity presented by Marcus Spears’ injury.

Hatcher will start while Spears recovers from a sprained MCL in his left knee, which is expected to sideline him for four to six weeks.

Seventh-round pick Sean Lissemore (strained groin) also won’t play in Sunday’s Hall of Fame Game, so Hatcher will have a heavy workload. He said he expects to play into the second half.

“I haven’t been getting as many snaps as I wanted,” the 6-foot-6, 305-pound Hatcher said. “Now I’m actually getting more than I want. I’m just going to go out there and take advantage of it.”

Hatcher, a third-round pick in 2006, might have challenged Spears for the starting job anyway. Spears has been a solid run defender while starting 72 games since the Cowboys selected him in the 2005 first round, but he’s not a factor as a pass rusher (eight sacks, 43 pressures in his career). Hatcher, who has 6.5 sacks and 58 pressures as a part-time player in his career, is a more disruptive player.

“We wanted to see [Hatcher] get more playing time,” said coach Wade Phillips, who describes Spears as a smart, physical player.

“It’s an opportunity for me to play and show what I can do,” said Hatcher, who is good friends with fellow Louisiana native Spears. “At the end of the day, it’s not my decision on whether or not I start. If I go out there and do a good job and they think that I should be the starter when the season starts, God bless me, I’m happy.”

Hatcher, who had 27 pressures last season despite a slow start after offseason knee surgery, missed several practices earlier in training camp with a hyperextended left elbow. He said he still doesn’t have full strength in the elbow, but it’s no longer bothering him.

“That set him back a little bit,” Phillips said. “Now he’s come back and is ready to go. He was having a great camp before he hurt his elbow, so I think he’ll play the same way in a game.”