The knee feels better and that’s a good place for Jason Hatcher to start. He’s still getting over the normal wear and tear of training camp, but that’s OK. For Hatcher, what matters is that his knee is good and he loves the Washington Redskins' defensive scheme this season.
Hatcher showed flashes of dominance last season, but could not sustain that level of play in part because of his knee. It required surgery before camp and the issues nagged him throughout the season. It’s tough for players over 30 when injuries start to mount; tougher to get over. Sure enough, the defensive end missed three games in 2014 and was impacted in many others.
Now he just needs to show what he can do now that he says he’s healthier. Against Detroit on Thursday, Hatcher showed some of what they’d like to see. The four-man rush is not applying the pressure they hope to apply in the season: They played Thursday without Ryan Kerrigan as well as Junior Galette. There’s a big drop-off from those two to rookie Preston Smith and Trent Murphy.
Hatcher, though, had three good rushes that, if paired with outside threats, could have resulted in a negative play. He split a double team on one rush, though no one else did anything. He beat the right guard on another for a pressure, but quarterback Matthew Stafford threw quickly.
On the play, Hatcher’s footwork resembled what end Stephen Paea told me in the spring was how Joe Kim, the grand master turned assistant coach, wanted them to play. After beating the guard with his hands, Hatcher did not turn his back, making it easier for a lineman to recover. Rather, he kept his shoulders square and moved his feet to the side, putting distance between he and the blocker.
Hatcher credits a scheme, too, that allows the linemen to get upfield. In the past, in the base package, the Redskins had their linemen take a lateral first step to occupy gaps. Now that first step is upfield. But in nickel last year, that first step was upfield and his pressure versus the guard occurred out of a nickel set. So, too, did his second pressure when he beat the left guard with a quick swim move to the outside shoulder. What also helped: Hatcher had been on the bench resting for the previous two plays.
Still, the scheme change excites him.
“It’s so different I look like a different person than last year,” Hatcher said. “I look like I’m more aggressive upfield and there’s a lot I can get better on as far as getting off the ball. I won both my one-on-ones. It’s pretty good, man. I’m excited where I’m at. There’s still a long way to go as far as my body getting back to me feeling the way I know I’ll feel.”
The Redskins would be wise to keep Hatcher as fresh as possible in games, considering he’s now 32. They have the depth and versatility to do so after focusing on the line in the offseason. Paea should be a solid help as well; he gets quick penetration versus runs and because of that, against the Lions, forced ball carriers to cut quicker than desired -- and into traffic.
Hatcher’s run defense versus Detroit was fine; he did not make a tackle in this area but he did take on two blockers on occasion, including one where the line slanted to the left.
“I’m not the best run stopper,” Hatcher said. “[But] if you run at me, I feel disrespected. I’m known around the league as a pass-rusher, but I do take pride in the run.”