Over the past few weeks, Christian Hackenberg got a glimpse of what it would be like to have your performance highly scrutinized again, this time around notches higher.
The former Penn State quarterback had been away from the spotlight for a season when he basically was redshirted last year, inactive for all but one game for the New York Jets. Even though he didn’t get a snap in the season finale last season, his presence still became a hot topic for the New York media.
Now the former second round draft pick of the team in 2016 will have his chance to stake his claim to the Jets’ starting quarterback position in five weeks when the team opens training camp in late July. His elevated his chances with an overall performance in the team’s organized training activities (OTA) as well as the team’s mini-camp that concluded Wednesday afternoon.
Even though he had his share of ups and downs over the past few weeks at both events, the 22-year-old Hackenberg relished his chance in competition with veteran Josh McCown and third-year veteran Kyle Petty. His stock appears to be on the rise, as the Jets are in a massive rebuilding mode.
Hackenberg arguably had his best performance this spring when he completed 11 of 14 passes with a touchdown and an interception in Tuesday’s mini-camp. However, he did show signs of struggling with consistency throughout both sessions.
“I thought it was a good minicamp overall,” Hackenberg said. “I thought we got a lot of great work in as a team. I think everyone is kind of excited for this break. I think it’s going to be good moving into training camp. Everyone will be refreshed and ready to rock.”
Hackenberg’s rash of success has helped him raise his own bar.
“There’s a different level of confidence,” Hackenberg said.”But I think that also goes back to being in my second year. You’re more comfortable in the situation, more comfortable with the guys in the locker room, in the huddle. Having the ability to throw with some guys and have a feel for them.
“I know I can play in this league.”
Hackenberg has been referred to as “The Cannon” in the Jets’ locker room, mainly due to his arm. With his 6-foot-4, 228-pound frame, the Jets see him developing into a pocket passer, who is increasing his accuracy. It was a long ways away when an anonymous Jets coach told ESPN in January that he “couldn’t hit the ocean.”
“I think he’s real accurate,” said Jets’ quarterback coach Jeremy Bates said about Hackenberg. “I think he’s throwing the ball well. He’s throwing it on time. Part of accuracy is knowing where to go with the ball, and each day, he plays faster. He gets in a rhythm. And I think everyone in the building is excited to see where he’s going. I think he’s accurate.”
Still, Hackenberg has dealt with his share of criticisms, mainly due to his lack of playing time.
“People still have their opinions about me, and I can’t really speak for them,” Hackenberg said. “But I know what I can do and I know what my coaching staff feels that I can do. I’m just confident in my abilities, and when I get my opportunities I’ll do that. I’m confident that I can play at this level and play at a high level. When I get my opportunity, I’m going to take advantage of it.”
Head coach Todd Bowles has watched his signal caller mature in a few ways.
“Hack got to play and learned a lot more,” Bowles said. “From a confidence standpoint, it’s picked up quite a bit. He’s got some timing down as well and he’s got a good feel for the offense, so I expect when he comes back for training camp, he’ll just let loose and throw the ball without thinking.”
Hackenberg plans to spend the next five weeks mixing business and pleasure. He will scour the Jets’ playbook and continue to work out at his family’s home in Virginia as well as take a hunting trip to Nova Scotia.
He admits being more comfortable with a version of the West Coast offense implemented by first-year offensive coordinator John Morton.
“I have to hold up my end and continue to get better, Hackenberg said. ““I think as a player that it’s really hard to think about [too many] things, when quite simply your job is to execute whatever you’re asked to do during that play. I’ve had some experience with wordier offenses in college, but it’s definitely a little bit of an adjustment. I think if you ask any of the other guys that are doing it, it’s something that you have to work at.
“I know specifically myself, whatever I can do with this play to execute it at the highest level, that’s my job. Learn from it, either way it goes. And I think if you can continue to do that and not focus on the pressure, on eight different things coming at you, that really helps. That’s my mindset, anyway.”
It could be the mindset that lands him a starting job with the Jets.