Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC East [Print without images]

Friday, August 12, 2011
Jason Hatcher bolsters Cowboys' pass rush

By Dan Graziano
ESPN.com

The Dallas Cowboys, much like the New York Giants, have been mentioned as a team that didn't do much in free agency. In fact they did sign a large number of free agents. It's just that, due to cap concerns and the fact that they were already set at most of the attention-grabbing positions, the Cowboys' free-agency exploits paled (as did most everyone's) to those of the Philadelphia Eagles.

But the Cowboys did sign Doug Free, Kyle Kosier, Marcus Spears, Gerald Sensabaugh, Abram Elam and Jason Hatcher. Five of those six guys are starters, and Hatcher showed up a lot Thursday night in sub packages and with the second-team defense. The performance he delivered in the preseason opener could lead him to an expanded role. Per DallasCowboys.com:
On the opening drive, he hurried Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton into an incompletion that forced Denver to kick a field goal. Later, his pressure led to an Alan Ball interception on Tim Tebow (the play was nullified by pass interference).

Hatcher, who re-signed for three years and $6 million a week into training camp, has 7.5 sacks in five seasons with the Cowboys. He worked hard to stay in shape during the lockout, knowing he could fit into Ryan's rotation.

"I'm playing more right side this year versus left side last year," Hatcher said. "I'm getting more comfortable as practice goes along.

"It allows me to use my athletic ability -- not read blocks, just get off the ball and make plays."

Hatcher seems to like the new Ryan scheme, and more importantly he seems to be grasping it very quickly. Players who do that are likely to have a greater chance to see the field early on that players who don't. The Cowboys aren't the kind of team that's going to want to ease into the season while everybody learns the new defense. They would like to win and compete for a championship this season. If Hatcher understands the defense, is slimmed down and quicker and can be a factor in helping the Cowboys generate a pass rush, you're going to see him a lot. They need help from up front rushing the passer, and Hatcher and Spears both had plays early in Thursday's game that indicated they might get some. I also thought Victor Butler showed a lot from the outside linebacker spot, and there have been plenty of reports from San Antonio that Butler is picking up the defense quickly too.

It's early in this process, and the Cowboys' defense looked it Thursday. But as August rolls along, Ryan is going to be looking for people who can grasp what he's teaching and put it into practice. If Hatcher is going to be such a person, his re-signing, while not very exciting at the time, could turn out to have been a very shrewd one.