Christian Hackenberg made his 2017 pre-season debut Saturday night against Tennessee with great anticipation, though the end result was far from exciting. The second-year QB out of Penn State went 18-25 for 127 yards, mostly on screens and check down passes. Zero points were produced and only two passes were even thrown beyond 20 yards.
Following the game, some noted the improved decisiveness and footwork or Hackenberg, while others noted that he barely did anything and once again lamented the fact that the Jets seem to have wasted a 2016 second round pick on him.
Hackenberg was firmly entrenched in the “Gabbert Zone” (as the hosts of the Around the NFL podcast like to call it) with a paltry 5.1 yards per attempt, playing it almost unbearably safe along the lines of what ended up getting Matt Leinart cut from the Cardinals at the end of the 2010 pre-season.
Watching Hackenberg Saturday night was frustrating, but above all else, it was boring. I’m a huge NFL fan and a diehard Jets fan and even I had trouble staying awake through that performance.
That said, none of us should be surprised. This has very clearly been the plan Jets brass had for Christian Hackenberg all along, and we are all going to have to see it through and hope it works, whether we like it or not.
As TOJ’s David Aitken and others have mused in the past, Christian Hackenberg was essentially selected in the second round last season to be a ball of clay. Jets General Manager Mike Maccagnan believed that despite two years of sometimes excruciatingly bad film, Hackenberg’s physical traits could be developed into a quality NFL starting quarterback, if only given the right coaching. So Maccagnan took his man with the clear objective of starting from scratch and molding Hackenberg into the valuable signal-caller envisioned by the GM and his subordinates during the 2016 draft process.Chan Gailey got the process started last season and now John Morton and Jeremy Bates have picked up where he left off. This is all worth remembering if you shrug off the talk of Hackenberg’s improved fundamentals, because among his many perceived flaws coming out of Penn State, fundamentals may have been at the top of most lists.
It took roughly one year to fix those flawed fundamentals, and soon we will see the beginning of step two, where Hackenberg is asked to make some reads and execute more complicated plays. It should be noted that for those who criticized Hackenberg for his inability to do this Saturday, he was clearly kept on a tight leash and many plays were outright scripted for him, so it is not really fair to disparage him for something he was never asked to do.
But soon enough, he will be asked to do it, and then we will have a better idea of whether or not Mike Maccagnan was right and most other scouts and draft analysts were wrong.
Is it a smart plan? Former Superbowl winning QB Phil Simms thinks it is – at the very least – the Jets’ best course of action, tweeting, “@nyjets .great job by j morton off coord .Safe easy throws for Hack. Build onfidence and slowly get agg as preseason goes.” Bleacher Report’s Connor Rogers – a TOJ alum – also had positive words about the plan, saying that “baby steps” were the best way to go as far as giving Hackenberg the best possible chance to succeed.Of course, even if the plan is the best one possible given the circumstances, there is only one question that ultimately matters: Will it work?
I wish I had a definitive answer, but the best I can do right now is say a combination of “time will tell” and “boy, I hope so.” Either way, though, as Jets fans, we have to understand that this plan was hatched over a year ago and it isn’t going to suddenly be drastically altered now.
It is quite clear that no matter how bad we expect the Jets to be and no matter how much the vast majority of the fanbase does not want to see Josh McCown play quarterback for this team, Hackenberg is not going to be starting games until they are 100% convinced he is ready to do so. With Hackenberg’s bike still supported by training wheels at this point, this means a very strong likelihood that McCown plays at least a few regular season games before we see the former Penn State product.
It’s frustrating. It’s boring. But this is the road the Jets have chosen to go down and that road doesn’t appear to have any shortcuts in sight.
So sit back, hope the coaching staff can work its magic with the ball of clay they have been given, and pray everything works out for the best.
Because at this point, that’s all any of us can really do.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com