Dallas Cowboys' Jason Hatcher Not Following The Script

Jason Hatcher was a lot more prominent in 2011, and hopes to do the same in 2012

Talk about the Dallas Cowboys players likely to make an impact in 2012 tends to revolve around a few select groups. There are the big-four stars, Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten and Jay Ratliff. The young stars like Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Tyron Smith, and DeMarco Murray that are just coming into their own. Key free agents like Brandon Carr, Lawrence Vickers and Nate Livings. Returning young players the team hopes will break out, like Andre Holmes, Bruce Carter and John Phillips. And of course rookies like Morris Claiborne, Matt Johnson and all the rest we put so much hope in, even though they have yet to play a down.


Related: Dallas Cowboys Core Players: Present And Future

And then there is one player on the roster who doesn't quite fit anywhere. Not a star, he still is positioned to be one of the more important cogs in Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan's plans this year. Not a young player, he had something of a breakout year in 2011 and hopes to continue it. I'm referring to defensive end Jason Hatcher.

If he has the kind of year he and the coaches are hoping for, he may help the Cowboys find that push up the middle that seemed so lacking last year. And the early returns on him seem to indicate that he may deliver on the promise he showed last season.

Details on why "the other Jason" is turning heads after the jump.

Hatcher did not start the year off on the best foot. He made the wrong kind of headline with his comments about there being a lack of leaders on the Cowboys. However, he has recently stated that things have changed - or at least his perception of them has.

"That's water under the bridge," Hatcher said. "That happened months ago. It's a new day. I'm tired of kind of speaking about that. We're going in a good direction. I love my teammates. The leaders are the leaders and they're doing a great job."

One way or another it does appear that he has bought into the overall message of the team, and has placed himself firmly in the ranks of the 89 players who are with the program. He certainly has reason to, since he did so well last year.

Jason Hatcher only made one start throughout his first 75 games in the NFL. But under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, last season was a breakout year for the Cowboys defensive end. Hatcher started 10-of-13 games in 2011, posting career highs in tackles (28) and sacks (4.5) while also recording his first career interception.

With the high hopes for Sean Lissemore, who has been ranked by our own OCC as one of the most productive defenders, and rookie Tyrone Crawford, there is reason to expect more pressure on the quarterbacks from the defensive ends. It is good to see the team growing some of its own, so to speak. That is something you expect to see in good football organizations. What is a bit unusual is for a player to emerge this late in their career. Nick Eatman at DallasCowboys.com did an extended piece on Hatcher, which was the chief reason I put this together, and he brings up that point.

Simply put, football coaches from any era are firm believers that players tend to take a few years to develop. But by their third pro season, you should see what you're going to see.

Obviously there are exceptions to every rule. Jason Hatcher is counting on being one of those exceptions here in 2012.

For Hatcher, who was in the last draft class Parcells had here in Dallas back in 2006, he now enters his seventh year and is still waiting for that breakthrough season.

Obviously, there is some difference of opinion on what a breakout season is, but there is agreement that Jason had his best year last season, and that the best may be yet to come.

But if you ask his coaches and teammates, even Marcus Spears who lost his starting spot to Hatcher last season, they agree this 2012 season could finally be the year Hatcher turns that corner.

"Hatch is ready to blow up," Spears said last week as the minicamp and offseason concludes. "You can just tell by the way he's working and the way he's playing. He's bigger, stronger. I think it's going to be a big year for him."

This is a potential sign of strength for the Cowboys, because Hatcher looks like a clear case of coaching and motivation paying off with an overlooked player. He is benefiting a great deal from the new regime in Dallas. He has apparently taken the official line of Jason Garrett to heart with his work ethic and striving to be better and better. And Rob Ryan and especially defensive line coach Brian Baker gave him increased opportunities last year, which he clearly seized. Also, if Bryan Broaddus' camp offseason observations are anything to go by, Hatcher sttof out as the best player in the padless practices so far:

I am going to give you two players that really stood out to me each day and they both come from the defensive side of the ball. Jason Hatcher and Victor Butler did something that stood out in every practice I was able to see live, then later study. Hatcher was active against the run playing with his hands, shedding blocks and getting to the ball on the move.

As a pass rusher it didn't matter where his point of entree [sic] was, he was disruptive. In stunts and twists, he was difficult to block. This was the Hatcher that I thought you were going to get in 2011 once he saw his buddy Stephen Bowen get paid but in my eyes, there were not near enough of the types of plays or technique that I just described. Needs to see if he can keep this up into training camp.

To me, this is a development that is itself overlooked. Dallas is not just bringing in key veterans and exciting rookies. It is also doing a better job of improving and growing the veteran players it has. Competition does not just involve new faces, but old ones like Hatcher and Spears, and the team does seem to clearly be playing the best man, no matter who he is.

I am hoping that Jason Hatcher has the year that the offseason points to. I hope he also is followed by other names, in places like the offensive line and safety, where some names we are familiar with will emerge and make their own contributions to the team. When training camp kicks off, good luck to all of them. And may the best men win.

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