IRVING, Texas — Jason Hatcher doesn't think of himself as a vocal leader for the Dallas Cowboys, just a guy who speaks his mind.
Except when he hears that Jerry Jones wants to keep the defensive tackle past this final year of his contract and someone suggests the Cowboys owner should back up those words with some cash.
"I'm not saying nothing," Hatcher said, playfully biting his tongue.
The eighth-year pro is letting his play do most of the talking, and certainly giving Jones something to think about when it didn't seem even a few months ago that a long-term deal in Dallas would be an option.
Hatcher was a steady substitute his first five years with the Cowboys before getting his break when Rob Ryan came in as defensive coordinator two years ago. The 31-year-old has now started 25 straight games, and he's more than just a consistent presence on a line that has lost Anthony Spencer for the season with a knee injury, and might not get anything significant out of Jay Ratliff for the second straight year.
Hatcher's making a lot of plays in the revamped four-man front under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and line coach Rod Marinelli. He's just one sack behind star pass rusher and new franchise sack leader DeMarcus Ware this season.
"More than anything else, you're just seeing him play with a relentless spirit both defending the run and running to the football at the end of the down but also getting to the quarterback," coach Jason Garrett said. "He's playing really, really good football."
Hatcher wanted out of Dallas three years ago. He simply couldn't get on the field much, and didn't think he ever would. Ryan saw something in him about the same time he signed a three-year deal, and he was a full-time starter by the end of Ryan's first season in 2011.
"He kind of got my career started off, rebirthed again," Hatcher said. "So yeah, I definitely give a lot of credit to Rob."
But he might give more to Marinelli in a new scheme that looks like a better fit for a taller interior lineman. The 6-foot-6 Hatcher is only a sack and a half from his career high three games into the season, and he holds court with reporters to discuss the post-sack dances that might be next.
In one of the dances he does right now, Hatcher raises his arms and rubs his thumbs and fingers together, almost a "show me the money" move. He's not saying what it means, but he does acknowledge that he's talked to his family about the idea that the only player remaining from Dallas' 2006 draft might not be back.
"But at the end of the day, I'm not worried about that," Hatcher said. "I'm just going to go out there and play my butt off for the rest of this season and whatever happens happens."
Garrett rejected the idea that Hatcher has become a vocal leader, maybe because he had just finished dismissing as "inaccurate" a report that Hatcher had called out quarterback Tony Romo in a speech to teammates about avoiding an up-and-nature tendency that has led to 8-8 records in Garrett's first two full seasons.
Hatcher's speech — nobody denied that he gave one — came after Dallas followed a season-opening victory against the NFC East rival Giants with a road loss for the second year in a row.
"He didn't speak for long," Garrett said. "He spoke to the whole group. I thought he spoke well. He backs it up in practice and he backs it up in the games."
As for Hatcher's technical explanation for why he's backing it up in games, he says he's getting more one-on-one looks from offensive linemen with more defenders around him up front. The Cowboys ran plenty of stunts when they sacked Sam Bradford six times in last week's 31-7 win over St. Louis, and Hatcher is benefiting from those as well.
Hatcher had some of the best sound bites from training camp, talking up teammates new and old as injuries to Spencer and Ratliff lingered and key backup Tyrone Crawford was lost for the season to a torn Achilles tendon.
After last week's speech to his teammates, Hatcher was on the big video board at the Cowboys' stadium, delivering the motivational message in the center of a group of players before Sunday's game against the Rams.
Maybe he doesn't call himself a vocal leader — and maybe his coach doesn't either — but it looks like it's working out that way.
"When it's time for me to say something I say it," Hatcher said. "I don't know. If that makes me a vocal leader, so be it."
Just don't ask him to talk about the owner.