Hatley ready to break out as a pass rusher

Charles Harris: “I think Rickey going to really blow up this year.”
Courtesy of Mizzou Athletics

If there was ever a time for Rickey Hatley to seize the moment as a pass rusher, that time is now.

Not only did coach Barry Odom’s dismissal of Harold Brantley and Walter Brady free up more snaps on the defensive line, but Charles Harris’ emergence as a premier pass rusher in the Southeastern Conference will force teams to double-team him, freeing up Hatley.

The situation puts Hatley in a prime position to improve on his paltry two career sacks in seven starts and 33 appearances.

Hatley won’t let his physical stature prevent him from taking advantage of this opportunity. He gained 35 pounds as part of the offseason strength and conditioning program, the most of any defensive lineman on the team.

“He looks really good,” sophomore defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. said.

Beckner Jr. and Harris said Hatley also became noticeably faster, a much-needed trait to improve his sack count. Hatley said he also worked on staying lower as he tries to get to opposing backfields.

Michael Scherer, a redshirt senior linebacker, attributed Hatley’s physical change to his work ethic.

“Big Rick works hard,” Scherer said. “It is not easy to do what he has done.”

Odom has seen the progression and said Hatley has had “an unbelievable camp.” Hatley worked on his pass rush moves this summer and strived to make reads faster so that he can react quicker.

“That’s been my big problem, and I have been working all summer with coach [Jackie] Shipp by ourselves trying to [work on] my keys to get back to the quarterback,” Hatley said.

Shipp, the defensive line coach, emphasizes reading keys such as the direction of the running back or the types of blocks an offensive lineman makes — two aspects of the new philosophy he brings while replacing Craig Kuligowski, who left for a job at the University of Miami in Florida. Hatley said Kuligowski stressed defending the pass first, while Shipp emphasizes defending the run first.

Ironically, Harris said Hatley has become better at defending the pass under Shipp, adding that Hatley “played the run a lot more instead of pass” in 2015. Hatley made 27 total tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss last season.

Although he focused on improving his ability to get after the quarterback in the offseason, Hatley also aims to increase his tackles for loss total in 2016.

“Leading [the team in] TFLs is my goal,” Hatley said.

That may be difficult lining up next to Harris, who led the SEC with 18.5 tackles for loss in 2015. If he can’t earn Mizzou’s TFL title, Hatley said he may even try to beat Harris in sacks — a grin spread across his face immediately after.

Even if he can’t beat Harris in either category, Hatley will be able to walk away from the 2016 season with a smile if his teammates’ impressions of him are any indication.

“I think Rickey going to really blow up this year,” Harris said.

Edited by Alec Lewis | alewis@themaneater.com

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