Back to a familiar regimen that includes more rest and yoga, defensive end Jason Hatcher has regained his strength and is finding more confidence on game days.
Jason Hatcher is finally feeling like himself again.
Now in his tenth year in the league, and second with the Redskins, the imposing 33-year-old defensive end has slowly begun to find a rhythm and routine at Redskins Park that works for his aging body, one that's gone through its share of nicks, bumps and surgeries over 140 regular season games.
The most recent setback, and what forced him to reconsider how he practices this season, occurred throughout 2014, his first year in Washington, when he needed arthroscopic surgery on his left knee at the beginning of September. By December, his right knee was feeling the pain, too, forcing him on the inactive list for two games before being placed on season-ending injured-reserve.
In some ways, the mileage on his knees had reached a natural breaking point. But playing on a new team, with a new way of training, put Hatcher in a difficult position, too, one he wasn't used to after eight seasons with the Cowboys.
"You do something a certain kind of way for a long time and your body gets used to it, and then you try to do something else," Hatcher said. "That's when stuff happens. Your body doesn't respond well to it."
Last year, the team did more reps in workout drills, which forced Hatcher to pivot in the way he was training and eating. He consumed more "crap" to keep his weight up, but didn't want to ask for special privileges from the coaches to take breaks, especially as he tried to find credibility from his new teammates.
"When you're coming into a new team you've got to earn respect everywhere you go," Hatcher said. "I started off really good and then got hurt, so I didn't feel that I got the respect from my teammates and the coaches…Even though it worked best for me in the past, I can't come in here and say that. I'm not a guy that complains a whole lot."
That kind of attitude, even as it set him back personally, made admirers from other veterans across the locker room.
"I think that's what has gotten Hatch to the player that he is, that team-first type of mentality," fellow veteran defensive lineman Kedric Golston said. "From day one, Jason was a consummate professional, one of the most professional guys I have ever been around as far as taking care of his body, studying, and really being a team guy."
This season, with a better sense of his health and familiarity with his teammates, Hatcher has slipped into his former routine, recovering at faster pace and finding the same comfort again in his own body. He's been skipping Wednesday practices, a decision that's begun to bear fruit.
"The schedule changed for me, as far as not practicing as much, and I'm able to get back on my regiment that I had early in my career," said Hatcher, who still stays sharp on Wednesdays, coaching other players and studying film as usual.
In eight games he's made 12 tackles and collected one sack, a pace he's hoping will begin to enhance as he regains his explosiveness on the field.
"I think each case is different. You can't coddle some and make other guys practice. I think you have to have a trust factor with the player, too," head coach Jay Gruden said. "Jason lays it all on the line. He had a great training camp, busted his butt. He's been a veteran guy, played a lot of football and I know that his knee has some soreness to it after he plays on Sunday and he needs maybe some extra time and there are certain guys like that. That's just different. Every case is different. Some guys you need to push a little bit more. Some guys need a little bit more rest."
Check out images of veteran defensive end Jason Hatcher during the 2015 offseason.
The morning after a game, Hatcher will go to a hot yoga session around 9 a.m. and makes sure to drink a gallon of water afterward to replenish all the sweat he's lost. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, Hatcher goes to a class at 6 a.m. By not sleeping in, it allows his body to recover quicker, and gives him extra time for stretching and preparing in the morning.
For the record, Hatcher enjoys the tree pose, "because it makes me shake," and the camel pose.
"Throughout the whole week it's a regiment you've got to be on," Hatcher said. "I took 50 snaps last week and now this is my second week on my regiment, and the first day was sore, but the second day I could feel my body starting to say 'OK, I remember this. This is right. This is what we like.' Now, I'm able to get back and practice Thursday and Friday like I did and not still be hurting from the game late in the week."
The results have spoken for themselves.
Defensive coordinator Joe Barry, who knows the importance in having individual plans for veteran players, said Hatcher "came out like gangbusters" during Thursday's practice. On Friday, Hatcher said it was the best he'd felt in a long time.
"It's starting to pay off for me, man," Hatcher said. "My legs are up under me. I'm accelerating. Some guys have to practice in year 10, but some guys don't have to practice, and they feel better. That's been the guy I've been pretty much for a while."