Jason Hatcher expects it to feel a little strange. For eight seasons, he wore the star on the side of his helmet before leaving for the rival Washington Redskins after last season.
He returns to AT&T Stadium in the visiting locker room, on the visiting sideline and with a crowd of 90,000-plus cheering against his team.
“I practiced against those guys for eight years,” Hatcher said of the Cowboys’ offense. “It’s a game that I love. It won’t be nothing lining up playing football against those guys. It’ll probably be a little weird going into the visitor’s locker room. I’m excited to see how Jerry [Jones] has got it all fixed up over there.”
Hatcher parlayed a career-best 11-sack 2013 season into a four-year, $27.5 million deal with Washington. He has three sacks, which is 1.5 more than his replacement, Henry Melton, has, though Melton leads the Cowboys.
“[Hatcher] has come in here and has really been a good leader for this locker room,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “He’s brought a lot of energy to the defense. We expect more from everybody on the defensive line. We expect more pressure. But Jason has done a good job. He’s done a little bit better against the run. His pass rush, he can be better. Obviously, we all can be better, but we’re happy to have him.”
Hatcher, who played in only four playoff games, winning one, in his time in Dallas, has watched the Cowboys from afar this season. His former team’s 6-1 record and much improved defense are hard to miss.
“Yeah, it’s all over the place,” Hatcher said. “America’s Team, right?”
He insists he’s not surprised by the Cowboys’ success. The Cowboys, who had the third-worst defense in NFL history last season, rank 14th in total defense despite being without DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee and Hatcher from last year’s unit.
“Coach [Rod] Marinelli, I knew from the day he got the job he was going to change things around,” Hatcher said. “I know what kind of guy he is, and I knew it wouldn’t be long until those guys start playing well. I’m very happy with the way they’re playing. It’s very hard to win in this league, and I hope they keep it going. But we’re looking forward to coming down there Monday night and getting another win.”
Rams ‘special’ teams
If this football thing doesn’t work out for Cody Davis, he might try acting. Davis, a former Stephenville star, was on the field for the Rams’ trick punt return that got Stedman Bailey a 90-yard touchdown.
“The punt team really doesn’t look up for the ball,” Davis said in a phone interview. “We’re kind of taught that. We knew they normally punt it to our right, so we sent Tavon [Austin] and myself to the left and kind of drew everybody to that side, while Stedman Bailey was the one actually catching the ball on the right. Once he had it, we just had to make a block or two. I think the punter and one other guy actually saw it. Once we sealed them off, it was just off to the races and kind of an easy touchdown all the way down the sideline.”
Davis had to do as much acting as Austin did, pretending to block for the returner.
“It is weird looking up at a ball that’s not there,” Davis said. “It was kind of hard to take a peek at the actual play going on.”
The Rams installed “Mountaineer,” named for Bailey and Austin, both of whom went to West Virginia, the week before the game against the Seattle Seahawks. Coach Jeff Fisher called it with the St. Louis Rams leading 14-3 in the second quarter and the Seahawks punting from their own 49.
The Rams took the play from the Chicago Bears’ playbook. Chicago ran the play in 2011 against the Green Bay Packers, with Johnny Knox scoring on an 89-yard punt return as Devin Hester served as the decoy. But the touchdown was nullified by a holding penalty.
“So I guess we’re the first ones that actually made it work,” Davis said.
The Rams pulled off a fake punt late in the game, though Davis was pass-protecting on the opposite side from punter Johnny Hekker’s pass to Bennie Cunningham. Fisher called the play with less than 3 minutes remaining in the game with the Rams facing a fourth-and-3 at their own 18, surprising his players.
“We were kind of laughing after the game, because whenever we run out on the field to make the call to the guys who are already out there, some of them didn’t actually believe that was the call,” Davis said. “They had to double check with people just to make sure. There really was disbelief that we were actually running it. Once that call came in, I think everybody was kind of wide-eyed. We couldn’t believe in that situation that they were going for it on us to seal the game off.”
Davis, who signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent from Texas Tech last year, has gained some playing time at safety on third-and-long situations. He played three defensive snaps against the Seahawks.
But Davis has earned his keep on special teams.
“I’m just excited to contribute wherever I can,” Davis said. “Whenever my number is called, I’m ready to go out there.”