Hack Watch: Evaluating Christian Hackenberg’s 2017 preseason debut

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New York Jets second-year quarterback Christian Hackenberg wasn’t outstanding, but he also wasn’t horrible during the team’s preseason opener against the Tennessee Titans Saturday night.

Hackenberg completed 18-of-25 pass attempts for 127 yards. He took one sack, didn’t throw a touchdown or an interception and botched a snap on his final play during New York’s 7-3 victory. Hackenberg’s performance was rather pedestrian, but that’s progress from where the 2016 second-round pick was a year ago at this time.

Simply put, Hackenberg looked more comfortable in the pocket than he had at any point last season. Granted, the Jets simplified the offense as much as they could to prevent Hackenberg from making too many (if any) reads and keeping the passing game within the down markers. Hackenberg’s 5.08 average yards per attempt is indicative of the team’s conservative, vanilla gameplan.

But that’s to be expected in the first preseason game. Josh McCown wasn’t exactly taking 5-foot drops and scanning the field either. There were times when Hackenberg seemed to pre-determine where he was going before the snap, which is something he can get away with against an equally vanilla defensive scheme. It’s good to see decisiveness out of a quarterback, but it’s better when he’s scanning the field before making a choice.

Sixteen of Hackenberg’s 25 pass attempts went to his first read and many others were either a checkdown or a screen pass.

Overall, Hackenberg played prudently, but occasionally he was too conservative. For example: On a 3rd-and-12, Hackenberg decided before the snap he was going to throw the ball to Austin Seferian-Jenkins. He converted an easy completion, but the only problem is Seferian-Jenkins was six yards short of the first-down marker upon catching the pass. That play was an example of when it appeared Hackenberg and the Jets were too afraid to make a mistake.

Hackenberg wasn’t pressured much, but he showed better awareness in the pocket when pressure was bearing down on him. Last year, the Penn State product would usually freeze and go haywire. But on this play, Hackenberg wisely ducks out of the pocket and scampers for a few yards.

Hackenberg was accurate for the most part and had a couple of perfect passes dropped by his receivers. But his passes didn’t look good when they were traveling beyond 10 yards. He still needs to work on his touch when throwing deep and that lack of finesse was evident on a sideline throw to Frankie Hammond, who has no shot of catching this laser.

Hackenberg’s best throw of the game was probably his final completion to Marquess Wilson. Hackenberg showed he can put touch on the ball with a nearly-perfect pass over the zone to a waiting Wilson. It was one of the few times he didn’t throw a quick slant, flat or crossing route and resulted in a solid 14-yard gain.

Hackenberg’s performance didn’t put any pressure on Josh McCown in the quarterback “competition.” It especially didn’t matter after McCown walked the Jets down the field on his first and only drive of the game. But it was a decent performance that should instill hope that progress is being made internally. Whether the Jets open up the playbook a bit for Hackenberg going forward will be something to watch over the duration of the preseason.

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