Thursday at New York Jets training camp, the tumultuous vibe surrounding Christian Hackenberg you’ve probably been reading about as he vies for the team’s starting quarterback job was nonexistent.
He wasn’t sent out of practice for breaking a huddle incorrectly, he didn’t hit a helpless reporter with an errant pass, and he wasn’t the talk of the day for throwing his first two interceptions of training camp.
It seemed like a mundane day for the former Penn State quarterback. But truthfully, it might just always be that mundane.
As the latest QB draft pick for a team destined to end up at the bottom of the league standings in 2017, Hackenberg is the media and fans’ focus of a team that’s likely planning for the future. Throughout the 2017 offseason, he’s been put under the microscope with this main question: Is he the team’s future quarterback, or is he the team’s placeholder while it awaits its next quarterback to come through the draft?
Thursday, however, he managed to fly under the radar.
Splitting reps throughout this session with Bryce Petty and Josh McCown, his competition in the Jets three-way quarterback battle, Hackenberg was hit or miss.
He was by no means a consistent threat in the pocket, but did have some bright moments — including a drive late in the practice where he led his offense down the field off several consecutive completions.
The goal for the Jets heading into the season is to build a composed, confident Christian Hackenberg.
“You want to see increments getting better. I don’t expect him to go out there and be Roger Staubach,” Jets head coach Todd Bowles said. “The kid has to get a chance to play and make some mistakes, grow from it, and come back from adversity and make good plays.”
Bowles didn’t announce who his starter will be Saturday when the Jets host the Tennessee Titans, but Hackenberg will get his chance to play — along with Petty and McCown.
By the looks of it, Hackenberg is likely the Jets No. 2 at the moment behind McCown — a 15-year NFL veteran who’s taken the majority of the first team reps this offseason since New York signed him in March.
Backup isn’t the role Hackenberg seemed destined for during a true freshman season when he threw 20 touchdowns and passed for nearly 3,000 yards to earn, at his peak, a top five projection in the NFL Draft.
Yet, it’s a huge step in the right direction after a season where the Jets weren’t willing to give the former Penn State QB a chance as starter Ryan Fitzpatrick faltered and backups Petty and Geno Smith fell injured. Hackenberg didn’t play a single down. He didn’t even dress until the season finale.
So what’s next for Hackenberg?
There’s seemingly more faith coming from the front office and some compliments coming from former teammates. Even members of the current Jets locker room are noticing key changes to the second-year pro.
“[Hackenberg] is younger than the other two guys, but him having Josh [McCown] here now, he’s learned a lot from him. He’s definitely a sponge,” Jets defensive end and Pro Bowler Leonard Williams said. “Just every chance I get to watch him, he’s definitely improved a lot.”
Even during a position battle, there's time for a selfie. pic.twitter.com/aWWLNvQgkw
— Onward State (@OnwardState) August 10, 2017
Jets defensive end and fellow Nittany Lion Devon Still didn’t get the chance to play with him at Penn State, but was able to see his development with the program from afar. Now teammates, Still sees the quarterback’s potential in the pro game.
“Since Penn State, he’s always been a good leader — knowing how to take command of the huddle and take command of the team,” Still said. “I’m just looking forward to seeing that translate to the NFL.”
Bowles said Hackenberg will see a chunk of action throughout each preseason game, regardless of solid or poor performances day-by-day.
Heading into the weekend (and the rest of the preseason), he’ll have a lot to prove. But making the strides he has, the potential is there for Hackenberg to snag the starting job this year.