After seven months of dissection, discussion and debate, second-year quarterback Christian Hackenberg will take the field Saturday night with the Jets at MetLife Stadium.
Hackenberg has been the most talked about member of the Jets for the entire offseason. Now, he finally faces an opponent — the Titans. Yes, it’s just a preseason game, but he will face a pass rush, will have to operate the offense and will try to build a relationship with his receivers.
“We’ve all been beating each other up pretty good,” Hackenberg said this week. “Definitely excited to see someone else and get a different challenge from a different team in terms of scheme and stuff like that. It’ll be interesting, and I think everyone’s kind of itching [to play].”
Coach Todd Bowles would not reveal what his quarterback rotation will be against Tennessee, but the expectation is veteran Josh McCown will start and play briefly, followed by a heavy dose of Hackenberg and then Bryce Petty will finish the game.
“We’re going to get him in the game,” Bowles said of Hackenberg. “He’ll play some with the first team line, but we don’t know how much. We’ll see how the game goes, depending on who is on the field longer. If the offense is on the field longer, the defense loses some reps and vice versa, but we’ll try to get him with some.”
Bowles said he does not expect Hackenberg to be “Roger Staubach,” but he surely would settle for another Cowboys quarterback — Dak Prescott. Prescott was drafted two rounds after Hackenberg in 2016, but while Prescott won Rookie of the Year last year, Hackenberg dressed for one game and played in none.
The Jets spent this offseason shedding veteran players, making fans dream of a terrible year that could result in a top draft pick next year and one of the top quarterbacks in that draft — Sam Darnold, Josh Allen or Josh Rosen.
But first, the Jets must figure out what Hackenberg is. After taking him with the 51st pick in 2016, there have been rumblings of inaccuracy and an inability to be an NFL quarterback. He looked improved this spring, but he has been uneven in training camp. He is holding on to the ball for too long and has struggled with accuracy.
The expectation is for McCown to begin the year as the starter, but the team will turn over the controls to Hackenberg at some point.
Bowles has done his best all offseason to present an even competition between McCown, Hackenberg and Petty. He said this week “they’re pretty even right now.” In reality, it is clear Petty is a distant third and McCown is in the lead.
While fans and media are focused on Hackenberg, Bowles has tried to steer the focus back to the team.
“I’m looking at a successful game for the team,” Bowles said. “I’m not really hoping for Christian to have a break-out or non-break-out game. I hope we make strides as an offense and as a team and whatever game Christian has, he has. I want him to play well. I want all of my guys to play well, so we go from there.”
Bryce Petty (right) throws a pass during Jets training camp as Christian Hackenberg looks on.AP
Bowles is emphasizing patience with Hackenberg.
“He’s 22 years old,” Bowles said. “The kid’s got to get a chance to play and make some mistakes and grow from it and come back from adversity and make good plays. We just want to see his overall play and, as the preseason goes, you want to see him progress and then see where he is. “
It has been nearly a year since Hackenberg faced an opponent. His last game action was the final preseason game of last year against the Eagles, which he finished with a quarterback rating of 30.1. Hackenberg said he feels he has come a long way since then.
“I feel good,” he said. “I think it goes back to taking it one day at a time like I’ve always been saying continue to learn from the bad, grow with the good, and continue to make those corrections, not make those mistakes again and just keep building. Ultimately the only thing you can ask out of yourself.”
Christian Hackenberg, quarterback
Surprise! Who else would we lead the list with? All eyes will be on the second-year quarterback playing in his first game since last preseason. Hackenberg needs to impress in the preseason to beat out Josh McCown.
Jamal Adams, safety
There are not many things to look forward to this season for Jets fans, but one of them is Adams. The No. 6 overall pick has been impressive so far in training camp. The safety has been all over the field and very vocal. Watch for him to deliver some big hits.
Robby Anderson, wide receiver
The loss of Quincy Enunwa for the season elevates Anderson into the No. 1 wide receiver spot. A year ago he was an undrafted free agent just trying to make the roster. Anderson is the best of a weak receiving corps.