HEISER: Former PSU QB Hackenberg struggling with Jets

Steve Heiser
  • Christian Hackenberg did not play in the New York Jets' preseason opener.
  • Hackenberg is also getting very little action during Jets practices.
  • One writer said Hackenberg will be a "de facto red shirt" this season.

Christian Hackenberg may be one of the most polarizing figures in the history of Penn State football.

If you want to start a vigorous debate right here in York County, just ask two local PSU fans about the abilities of the former Nittany Lions quarterback. You will likely get two very different perspectives.

His defenders point to his obvious physical tools and his promising freshman season under coach Bill O'Brien behind a solid, veteran offensive line. They blame his struggles as a sophomore and junior on ineffective coaching by James Franklin and his staff and an offensive line that was among the worst in the Big Ten.

Hackenberg's critics, however, aren't buying the excuses. They see a big, strong-armed quarterback who, at times, couldn't make the simplest of short throws, showed little or no pocket presence and who occasionally acted childishly on the sidelines.

Which side is right?

That will be determined by Hackenberg's success or failure as a pro.

At this point, it's much too early to make any definitive judgments on Hackenberg's NFL career, but the early returns are not promising.

This past spring, the New York Jets drafted Hackenberg in the second round. A little more than a week ago, sources at the Jets summer camp told NFL analyst Jon Ledyard that Hackenberg was “brutally bad” during early workouts with the team.

That assessment was seemingly supported by the fact that Hackenberg did not play a single snap in the team's preseason opener. He's currently buried fourth on the Jets' depth chart behind Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith and Bryce Petty.

That does not bode well for Hackenberg, especially since Smith and Petty have not exactly enjoyed distinguished pro careers.

According to reports, Hackenberg isn't even getting many snaps in workouts, and when he does get occasional practice reps, his accuracy continues to be a major issue.

A reporter for the New York Daily News wrote that Hackenberg will be a “de facto red shirt” this season.

The Jets, for their part, are saying all the right things about the former PSU QB. Head coach Todd Bowles has lauded Hackenberg's attitude, saying he is learning and improving each day.

Still, Hackenberg is not playing much, even in practice, and that won't likely change anytime soon. In fact, there's talk that Hackenberg won't see any preseason game action until the final exhibition contest.

Once the regular season starts, Hackenberg will likely watch the games in street clothes on the sideline. At this point, barring injuries, it would be stunning if Hackenberg even gets a snap during a regular-season game.

That is highly unusual for a QB drafted in the second round.

Since 2010, seven quarterbacks have been selected in the second round of the NFL draft. All of them made at least three regular-season appearances during their rookie seasons, and four of the seven actually started at least 10 games as a rookie: Oakland's Derek Carr (16 in 2014), Smith (16 in 2013), Cincinnati's Andy Dalton (16 in 2011) and Carolina's Jimmy Clausen (10 in 2010).

The way the Jets are handling Hackenberg is clear evidence that he is not ready to play in the NFL anytime soon. By all accounts, he remains a significant development project.

Paterno's final recruits enter last Penn State season

Does that mean that Hackenberg can't eventually become a productive NFL QB?

No, it does not.

It does mean that Hackenberg still has a very long way to go.

It also means that the Hackenberg debate will continue in these parts for at least another year.

Steve Heiser is sports editor for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.