Word from Cowboys Training Camp is that DT Jason Hatcher is on fire. Nearly every practice, drill, and scrimmage he has stood out as a dominant player. As a fan, I’m always filled with mixed emotions when I hear about a training camp standout. I’m obviously excited to hear a certain Dallas Cowboy is doing well and may be a real factor in the upcoming season – But – I’m equally as worried because in training camp they are only facing fellow Dallas Cowboys. So theoretically a player in training camp has an equal chance of exciting me as his competition on the team has at disappointing me.
Now, when DeMarcus Ware lights it up against Tyron Smith I’m not overly concerned. Yes, Tyron Smith has big expectations and needs to keep progressing as a LT to meet those expectations. But we know DeMarcus Ware is a beast. He’s one of the best (If not THE best) pass rushers in the game. He’s supposed to abuse our young developing LT, right?
But Jason Hatcher is a different story. He’s not the superstar DeMarcus Ware is. Yes, I know he graded well (+25.7 in 2012) on Pro Football Focus’ subjectively objective grading system. While I do value PFF scores, they do not replace a good old fashioned smell and eyeball test. Watch 2012 Dallas Cowboy games again. Pay special attention to Hatcher throughout. He played well but he wasn’t great. He almost disappeared in some critical late-game situations and at times looked like he was only moving 50%.
Is Jason Hatcher, at the ripe age of 31, finally coming into his prime or could his success be a product of poor competition on the Offensive Line? THAT’s the question we must ask.
Hatcher has been primarily facing backups at Guard. Livings, Leary and Mack have been out until recently so it’s not as if Hatcher has been facing the cream of the crop. But Hatcher hasn’t been going against riffraff either. Hatcher mainly faced David Arkin and Phil Costa who were each supposed to challenge for starting roles in 2013. He even occasionally squared off against Travis Frederick who is the expected starting Center. So these are actual players expected to contribute in 2013.
Now it’s possible a shift to defensive tackle on a 4-3 defense was all the 31 year old needed to become a star. I think history and a little logic tell us otherwise. I don’t necessarily think his early success is an illusion either. I think Hatcher will be a fine player in 2013. Just like he was last year and the year before that. But every time I get excited by the possibility of Hatcher tearing it up this season, I’m haunted with visions of the offensive line falling apart this season also.
We should all be praying Hatcher excels this year and this is a testament to him and his physical ability rather than merely an indictment on his direct competition. This week Hatcher starts facing off against the expected starters on the Offensive Line. And the best test will be this weekend when The Dallas Cowboys face new competition in the Miami Dolphins. If we see Miami victimize our Offensive Line and Hatcher fail to make an impact then we know the answer. If we see the Dallas O-line hold their own and Hatcher regularly get in Miami’s backfield we also get our answer.
But that’s exactly why we watch the preseason games. Who wins or loses is worthless. It’s knowing who and what to look for that matters. The answer to the question, Is Hatcher That Good or Is the OL That Bad will hopefully be realized on Sunday.
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