BALTIMORE — Jason Hatcher stood amidst a swarm of reporters, still in his game pants and undershirt, eye-black smeared on his cheeks and tried to reflect on his first game action of the preseason.
His head still spinning, Washington’s top defensive free agent pickup struggled to remember exactly what had taken place in his three series of play. The 17 snaps, a sack, quarterback pressure and tackle for a loss all were a blur.
But Hatcher did know it felt good being back on the field. He spent all of training camp and the first two weeks of the preseason working his way back from arthroscopic knee surgery.
The clarity started to come the more Hatcher talked, but then a loud bellow interrupted his train of thought.
“Big Daddy’s back!” fellow defensive end Chris Baker roared with a laugh.
Hatcher laughed as well. He had plenty to feel good about. He made his presence felt, and most importantly, he came away from the game with his surgically repaired left knee feeling just fine.
“It felt great, man, just to be out there, knock some rust off. Just to be with my team,” he said. “They welcomed me back with open arms and I felt like I’d always been there.”
Hatcher’s coaches used him as if he had always been there as well. Rather than easing him back into action, they threw him into the fire. Afterward, they expressed encouragement at what they had seen considering the 6-foot-6, 299-pound lineman just took his first 11-on-11 reps on Wednesday.
“Good to see him out there in his first game with us,” Coach Jay Gruden said. “Got a sack. Looks like the only negative is he’s got to get himself into playing shape. You could see he was a little winded out there. He’s a force to be reckoned with. He’s a great addition to our football team. We’ve just got to make sure we work his butt off the next couple weeks to get him ready for Houston.”
Saturday’s performance served as the unveiling of the expansive bag of tricks that the Redskins have planned for Hatcher.
Whenever asked about their plans for Hatcher, Gruden or defensive coordinator Jim Haslett remained vague.
“Well, we brought him here to rush — rush the quarterback,” Gruden said in training camp.
“How will we use him? We’ll use him to get after the quarterback,” Haslett said of Hatcher, whom Washington signed to a four-year, $27.5 million deal with all $10.5 million of the guaranteed money owed to him this season.
Haslett never revealed specifics on Hatcher’s position. But with Barry Cofield at nose tackle, and Chris Baker lining up predominantly at left end during the offseason practices and training camp, it was assumed that Hatcher would play right end.
There were also questions about what kind of an impact Hatcher would have in Washington’s 3-4 defensive scheme. In six seasons in Dallas, he never had more than 41 / 2 sacks in the same type of front, and then racked up 11 when the team switched to the 4-3 last season.
Haslett always said he had a variety of things planned for Hatcher, and indeed he did.
Hatcher started the game at right end, where he lined up just to the left of outside linebacker Brian Orakpo. Immediately, Hatcher commanded a double team.
Hatcher later lined up at right end and generated pressure. Later still, Hatcher settled in at right defensive tackle in a 4-3 look before flipping to left defensive tackle, and then back to right end in the 3-4. Hatcher also had three snaps at nose guard.
Hatcher’s finest moment came on Washington’s second defensive stand and with the Ravens facing third and seven from their own 20. Lining up on the left and over Baltimore right guard Marshal Yanda, Hatcher came with a bull rush. He drove the 6-3, 305 Yanda, a three-time Pro Bowl pick, deep into the backfield, then overpowered him, slipped free and wrapped up Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, dropping him for an eight-yard loss.
“He was really good in there. In there a couple plays and he gets a sack, and that’s why we brought him here,” outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. “I think we were able to do some things alignment-wise that allowed us to get some one-on-ones, and having Hatch made that a certain thing. . . . It was good to see Hatch out there making plays, and I know he was anxious to get out there and get a sack.”
Hatcher’s night ended after the third defensive stand. He had come off the field by the final play; by that point, he had started shuttling in and out with fellow defensive linemen as he started to tire.
“I’m rusty in some areas. Just got to get my wind up and work on my pad level down the stretch as I get fatigued,” Hatcher said. “I started getting a little tired and my knee started getting a little tired. But it’s something I’ve got two weeks to work on and harp on every day and get it fixed.”
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