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Jason Hatcher hopes old habits produce new results for Redskins

"As you get older, you have to do things smarter," said Redskins DE Jason Hatcher. Mark Tenally/AP

ASHBURN, Va. -- He played in pain until his knee couldn’t go anymore. Washington Redskins end Jason Hatcher tried to coax more time out of his surgically-repaired right knee, but failed.

And Hatcher’s 2014 season ended with three games remaining, going on injured reserve before the finale.

“It was bad,” Hatcher said. “I’m the type of guy, I don’t complain and I don’t give up, so I took my knee to the limit. When I went on IR, I couldn’t even walk.”

But it also convinced Hatcher he needed to return to past habits that he had begun long ago with Dallas. It’s why, even though he rarely practices in full anymore, he’s optimistic about the final eight games this season for Washington. His right knee feels better, helped by a combination of reduced practice time, hot yoga and an improved diet.

Hatcher, 33, hasn’t been the dominant force Washington hoped for when it signed him in the 2014 offseason -- with 6.5 sacks in 21 games -- though it's not as if he's played poorly, either. But he likes how he’s feeling.

“Absolutely,” he said. “It’s feeling better every week and I can feel my explosion [improving]. ... I’m in the same regimen that I had in Dallas.”

That regimen includes the yoga, using bungee cords to work out before practice and staying hydrated. These are all things he started doing with the Cowboys in his fourth season, after veterans such as Greg Ellis and Kenyon Coleman turned him onto yoga and just overall stretching exercises.

“I started getting leaner and that’s when I started getting better as a player,” Hatcher said.

But, last season, Hatcher didn’t have time to do what he had in Dallas.

“You’ve got to follow the protocol of the team, you can’t do your own thing, especially a new guy,” Hatcher said. “I didn’t have time; I was too busy. Everyone has their own stuff, but this is stuff I like to do and it makes me who I am.”

So, starting in Week 4, Hatcher and right tackle Morgan Moses started attending a hot yoga class. Hatcher goes two to three times a week, sometimes waking up at 5:30 a.m. and working out before heading to Redskins Park. He drinks a gallon of water during a session.

“You know how sometimes after a week you feel heavy and getting around it’s like you’re walking through mud? It makes you feel light and fleshes everything out,” Hatcher said of the yoga.

Hatcher also drinks a lot of water Sunday nights after games, takes several supplements and eats a diet heavy on protein. He also has a hyperbaric chamber at home, where he’ll occasionally sit while watching a movie.

“As you get older, you have to do things smarter,” Hatcher said. “I tell people all the time, the heavy guys, as you get older you need to lose weight. Your joints are going to wear down. They can’t hold the weight. If you look at pictures of me early on, I’m smaller. I’m at 293, the lightest I’ve ever played.”

And part of that is not practicing. Hatcher said he doesn’t like not practicing because it reduces his ability to lead if all he does is play on Sunday. But the Redskins and Hatcher know this is his best chance to last for a season.

“You have to have a trust factor with the player too. Jason lays it all on the line,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “He had a great training camp, busted his butt. He’s been a veteran guy, played a lot of football and I know that his knee has some soreness to it after he plays on Sunday and he needs maybe some extra time, and there are certain guys like that. Some guys you need to push a little bit more. Some guys need a little bit more rest.”

After last season, Hatcher said he wasn’t sure how much longer he could play. He’s still not certain; he’s focused on just lasting another eight games.

“Ten years of ball and you’re on the other side of the train,” Hatcher said. “My will and love for the game, I want to go out and leave my legacy. I don’t want to go out and quit just because I’m in pain. I don’t believe in giving up. I know my days are numbered and could be soon."

But he hopes not too soon. Hatcher said he’s lost six pounds this season and feels good because of the diet and his other extra work -- and rest.

“I’m able to eat right, I don’t have to eat crap to keep my weight on,” Hatcher said. “I know for a fact as I keep playing, you’ll start seeing, ‘Oh, he’s making plays again.’ I can just feel it. I can feel it coming back.”