Throughout the summer, I predicted this would be the week the New York Jets would name Christian Hackenberg the starting quarterback.
It all made sense in August. The Jets were setup to fail with a depleted roster. Josh McCown – the veteran brought in during the offseason to hold down the fort – would play terribly or get hurt. We’ve seen enough of Bryce Petty to know his upside is capped. The Jets would use the bye week to usher in Hackenberg as the starter for their Week 12 contest against the Carolina Panthers.
If the Jets had one goal for this lost 2017 season, it was supposed to be seeing what they have in Hackenberg. Naturally, my grand plan has been flipped on its head. Christian Hackenberg’s Jets career might be finished before it even began.
As we’ve seen across the NFL, summer projections don’t mean squat. The Jets have overachieved and are 4-6 after an ugly loss to the Buccaneers that closely resembled what everyone in July thought this team would actually resemble. McCown has managed to stay on the field and hasn’t been horrendous and New York’s coaching staff seems to think that’s enough to hold onto the job.
But most importantly, Hackenberg did nothing to show he was even ready to play in an NFL game this summer. Hackenberg got the bulk of the reps during preseason action and looked marginally less confused than he did as a rookie. In the four exhibition games, Hackenberg went 42 for 74 (56.8 percent completions) for 372 yards (5 yards per attempt), two touchdowns and two picks.
Earlier in the year, coach Todd Bowles made it appear as if he had seen plenty of Hackenberg and Petty during the summer. Quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates corroborated Bowles’ assessment this week when asked about the mysterious Hackenberg, who has yet to see a regular-season rep in 26 career games.
“We’re focused more on the Carolina Panthers than getting into that debate,” Bates said regarding the possibility of giving Hackenberg a start. “Of course, we’ll have that conversation at the end of the season. As an organization, this is professional football. This isn’t Triple-A.
“We’re going to play the best players that give us the opportunity to win at all positions. That’s our philosophy and Josh is our starter. He gives us the opportunity to win on Sunday and that’s what we’re focused on. We’re focused on a very good Carolina Panthers team. … At the end of the year, we’ll have more conversations about the future.”
In other words, you probably won’t see Hackenberg on the field unless there’s an injury to McCown and most likely to Petty. Hackenberg’s preseason was so uninspiring, the Jets made him the third-string quarterback on the depth chart. Bates and first-year offensive coordinator John Morton clearly weren’t impressed by Hackenberg’s exhibition performance and that means the Penn State product might not even get a chance to play.
The problems for Hackenberg are obvious. The arm talent is evident; the pocket prowess and ability to read defenses and make pre-snap adjustments are not. Simply put, Hackenberg is too slow to react under center and couldn’t do much when asked to look beyond his first read.
It’s also important to note that Bowles and his staff might be coaching for their jobs. The 4-6 start has exceeded expectations, but the Jets must show more growth before Bowles is retained for 2018. If McCown is healthy, he’ll be Bowles’ guy whether Mike Maccagnan likes it or not.
It’s nearing definitive territory that the Jets wasted a second-round pick on Hackenberg. Yet, it’s uncertain who to blame.
Maccagnan took a shot in the dark on Hackenberg when 31 other teams didn’t seem remotely interested. He fell in love with raw talent and might have downplayed Hackenberg’s fatal flaw.
Bowles should also be blamed for surrounding Hackenberg with an incapable coaching staff. Former offensive coordinator Chan Gailey could barely call a play, let alone develop a young quarterback. The Jets probably can’t say they got the most they could get out of Hackenberg.
Hackenberg himself should be blamed for allowing the conditions around him at Penn State to force him into bad habits. Obviously, damaging NCAA sanctions couldn’t have been predicted when Hackenberg signed his letter of intent. But perhaps his greatest regret of his career will be not transferring from Penn State amidst the Jerry Sandusky fallout. His loyalty should be commended, but he’s practically damaged goods after playing in a gimmicky spread offense and being thrown behind an offensive line made up of Division III talent.
There isn’t one finger to point when assessing what went wrong with Hackenberg and the Jets. But it seems the experiment is already over.