(Editor's Note: Throughout the off-season, DallasCowboys.com staff writers will take a closer look at the roster, analyzing players' impact last season and how each fits into the team's 2012 plans. Today's Roster Rundown entry features defensive lineman Jason Hatcher.)
Name: Jason Hatcher
Position: Defensive Line
Experience: 7 seasons
College: Grambling State
Key stat: Hatcher had a season-high seven tackles in the season finale and recorded 2.5 of his four sacks in the final seven games of the season.
Contract Status: Signed through 2013.
How He Played In 2012: Hatcher may very well have been the Cowboys' most disruptive, best pass-rushing lineman of the 2012 season. He recorded a sack in the near-comeback win against the Redskins at Cowboys Stadium and added another in the one-point victory against the Bengals. Hatcher's 27 total tackles and 51 combined tackles were both career highs. He seemed to be coming into his own as a defensive end in the 3-4 scheme, but he could have done a better job in regards to penalties. His seven
flags tied him for fourth on the team, and four of them gave the opponent first downs. At times, his insistence on getting to the quarterback led to him jumping early. Hatcher had an offsides penalty and an encroachment penalty against the Eagles in Philadelphia, but the Cowboys came back to win that game. The most costly penalty that most people will remember came in the waning minutes of the season finale, when he was called for roughing the passer on Robert Griffin III. But penalties aside, overall Hatcher had a solid season as one of the few healthy, reliable players on the defense and defensive line and demonstrated more signs of progression than slowing down.
How Does He Fit:Hatcher's pass-rushing ability has rarely been questioned. But how he's able to stop the run as well in the new system may determine his playing time, and where he plays on the line and whether or not he starts may depend on how he performs in the preseason and what his weight is when the offseason begins. At 6-foot-6, 305 pounds, he'd be a massive defensive end, particularly compared to DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, but he may need to add even [embedded_ad] more weight if the Cowboys decide to use him inside next to Jay Ratliff or a free agent pickup or draft pick. It's possible he rotates in at the defensive end spot, or the Cowboys could try to add even more bulk to his frame and move him inside. Right now, it's no guarantee he'll be in the starting lineup, but he'll undoubtedly stay a part of the defensive line rotation wherever he ends up.
Nick Eatman –Versatility is the trait all coaches are looking for in key players and that's what Hatcher provides, especially as the Cowboys switch to a 4-3 defense. Hatcher did play defensive end at Grambling in a 4-3 but has been an end in a 3-4 for most of his career. Hatcher has the body type to possibly play end or tackle in the new scheme. That versatility could be beneficial as the Cowboys sort out the roles for Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff. Hatcher might need to know what position he'll play predominantly rather soon, to either add or lose a few pounds. But either way, Hatcher should have an important role with the defense, on the inside or outside, or possibly both.