He swatted with his left hand, then his right, nudging Redskins guard Kory Lichtensteiger to the inside. That’s all Jason Hatcher needed last October. And then Hatcher did what the Redskins’ linemen did not do enough of last season: Finish off a one-on-one battle with a sack.
Within 2.5 seconds he was in quarterback Robert Griffin III’s face.
It’s the sort of play the Redskins felt made him worth signing to a four-year, $27.5 million deal Thursday. It’s also the sort of play the Redskins need to see a lot of this season to justify that contract.
Yes, the Redskins still need safety help. But until they solved their pass-rush woes, the Redskins’ defense would only go so far. They still have a ways to go and simply adding talent won’t do the trick. But landing Hatcher definitely helps their desire to improve the rush. Of course, I’m sure the Redskins don’t mind that it takes away a good player from NFC East rival Dallas.
It’s particularly important where he can do it: up the middle. If you can't pressure from all over consistently, or with more than two defenders, you'll be limited.
Redskins offensive tackle Trent Williams reacted the way you would expect, knowing he won’t have to be part of a line that deals with Hatcher this season:
— Trent Williams (@TrentW71) March 13, 2014
Another Redskin called Hatcher “disruptive and a major talent.”
The problem is that he’ll turn 32 before the season begins and the Redskins just gave him a lucrative contract. As usual, you need to see the guaranteed portion to accurately gauge the deal.
But one rule of thumb in free agency is not to overspend for players in their 30s. Yes, he doesn’t have a lot of wear on his body like many others who have played eight years in the NFL; he didn’t become a full-time starter until 2011. But 32 is 32 and how many years can the Redskins coax good seasons from him? If he’s effective for three years, then it’s a good deal. If not? Well ... If nothing else, though, he’ll help them next season.
The Redskins struggled generating push up the middle in 2013. It was striking, too, when other teams could do so – like Minnesota during a crucial drive in the second half, getting to Griffin too fast for him to adjust. In that game, the Vikings tackles at times in key spots were in Griffin's face within two seconds.
In 2012, if the Redskins got push up the middle, they lacked a consistent outside rush.
Nose tackle Barry Cofield was their best interior rusher, but too often he could be neutralized and a quick push failed to materialize. Stephen Bowen’s knee limited his effectiveness and Jarvis Jenkins hasn’t developed into the pass-rusher they hoped he might become. Chris Baker could help in this area, as he showed late in the season. But they needed a big body who could consistently collapse the pocket. That’s Hatcher. By the way, Hatcher's arrival does not mean the end for Bowen, according to two team sources. He apparently remains in the plans, despite coming off microfracture surgery (and carrying a cap hit of $7.02 million).
Back to Hatcher. As important as it is for them to fix the safety position, even an all-star back there would have problems unless the rush improved. They clearly need answers there, but if they can find players who can line up right and tackle, then the rush will help them do better. That is, if the rush is good.
We’re still not talking Seattle-esque, but step one was adding another inside rusher. With more teams going to quick passes, the Redskins could not be as disruptive without a quick push. Hatcher’s success came inside as a tackle in pass-rush situations (he had two sacks against Washington last season). He also played in a 4-3 last season, freeing him to get upfield faster. Here, he’ll be in a 3-4, but the Redskins have vowed some changes to bolster the rush and they use a lot of nickel, which carries some 4-3 looks and responsibilities.
Also, they can now pair Hatcher and Cofield in certain packages to help in this area. And that will ease the burden on outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. Their rush worked best in 2011 when Orakpo and Bowen worked off one another. If Orakpo can do so with Hatcher, that will help quite a bit.
The Redskins have plenty of work to do. And Hatcher must prove that last year was not a one-time thing. But after a great deal of angst during the first two days of free agency, the Redskins finally added a player who can give them a big boost defensively. The only question is: For how long? But for now, though, they can celebrate a good addition.