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Ex-Jets QB Christian Hackenberg gets chance to resurrect career with Super Bowl champion Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Christian Hackenberg throws a pass

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Christian Hackenberg throws a pass during NFL football training camp in Philadelphia, Monday, Aug. 13, 2018.  Credit: AP/Matt Rourke

PHILADELPHIA — The workout was scheduled for Sunday, and Christian Hackenberg didn’t know what to expect, or even if he’d finally get another chance to prove he belonged on an NFL roster. After all, since ending his ill-fated two-year run with the Jets, doors have closed on him repeatedly.

He was traded to the Raiders for a conditional seventh-round pick in May but was gone by June. He tried out for Bill Belichick in New England and got a look-see from Bill O’Brien, who recruited Hackenberg to Penn State in 2013, with the Texans. Neither coach signed him.

This time, though, he did enough to at least create some interest with a team known for developing quarterbacks. Yes, the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles thought enough of Hackenberg to sign him Monday and give him a shot at resurrecting his career.

“Came in for a workout (Sunday), hung around a little bit, ended up signing and got thrown into a walkthrough (practice),” Hackenberg said Monday after a morning workout. “Then I had to drive back to my house in Jersey to go pick up a bag of clothes, drive back to the hotel, so it’s been kind of hectic.”

It sure beats the alternative.  

“It’s like I was sitting on my couch for the past two months, working out, flying all over the place,” he said. “It just feels good to be back on the field and have some pads and cleats on.”

It wasn’t all that long ago Hackenberg was considered the answer at quarterback for the Jets. Drafted in the second round out of Penn State in 2016, he had prototype size, the powerful arm and the air of confidence after a promising college career. But he never developed the way the Jets had envisioned and didn’t so much as step on the field in a regular season game in two seasons before the Jets dealt him to the Raiders a few days after selecting Sam Darnold of USC with the third overall pick.

Where did it all go wrong?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m not going to really dwell on the past. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect, and a lot of time to work this off-season, and that’s been my focus, and I’m happy to be here. I’m living in the moment.”

Hackenberg went to work in the off-season with quarterbacks coach Jeff Christensen, a former NFL backup in the 1980s, and worked on his mechanics.

“Since the end of January, we’ve put in 86 two-a-days,” Hackenberg said. The biggest change: footwork.

“Cleaning up my footwork eliminated inefficiencies with my motion up top, tightening things up and compacting things,” he said. “It’s helped a lot, and it’s starting to finally become muscle memory.”

He knows there is still a long way to go. A very long way. He’s the fifth quarterback on the Eagles, and it’d be an upset if he made the final roster going into the season. He could be a candidate for a practice squad spot, in which case he’d get to work under head coach Doug Pederson, one of the NFL’s top quarterback gurus, as well as offensive coordinator Mike Groh, son of former Jets head coach Al Groh.

“We’ve got to spend a lot of time once the meetings are over trying to catch him up,” Mike Groh said. “First of all, he’s got to learn what to do and how we want it done. At this point, he’s got to crawl before he can walk.”

For now, Hackenberg will concentrate on the little things.

“Everyone focuses on results,” he said. “Media focuses on results. But the one thing I’ve found that’s been really cool is falling in love with the process and making sure you master each step.”

If nothing else, his journey has taught him to appreciate life.

“You take things for granted so many times in your life and you don’t miss it until it’s taken away from you for a little bit,” he said. “Getting a taste of that is not a good sandwich to bite into. So just really happy to be here, have a smile on my face and enjoy every minute of it.”

However long that lasts.

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