FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
Before we go any further with our discussion of Christian Hackenberg, a caution. A very big, bold caution that needs to be put out there to add context to a subject of critical concern to the Jets.
It is May, the players are not in pads, they can’t hit, and there may be little correlation between what happens now and the time the games start to count.
With that out of the way, we offer this: Despite some erratic play early in practice Tuesday, the second-year quarterback gave the definite impression that he’s making progress. Enough to make you wonder if Hackenberg can be the capable starting quarterback the Jets desperately need? Of course not. At least not yet, with miles to go before training camp and preseason games can offer more tangible proof of improvement.
But . . .
Take the following sequence in 7-on-7’s later in practice: Hackenberg hit Charone Peake in stride on a post route. The throw was perfect, although Peake dropped the ball. Next throw: a flat route to rookie tight end Jordan Leggett to the left, with the ball delivered in stride. Next, a short completion to the right to Frankie Hammond, followed by a completion over the middle to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Later in practice, during an 11-on-11 drill, Hackenberg finds Deshon Foxx open over the middle. Perfectly thrown ball. Next play, the defense runs a blitz to Hackenberg’s right, and he hits Leggett in the spot from where the blitzer started his rush.
Again, helmets and shorts, no contact, no score being kept. But if you’re looking for incremental progress from a player who may be one of the most important elements of the 2017 season — and beyond — something there at least looks promising.
“He’s definitely developed,” said receiver Quincy Enunwa, who may have been the Jets’ most improved player last season. “He’s putting in the work, and you see it. You have to give guys time to develop. That’s not to say there’s any correlation between me and him, but you have to give it time. At the quarterback position, it’s even harder. You have to be a special guy to come in and play that first day. But he has the mentality to be really good. He just has to keep putting in the work.”
Is it enough to convince the Jets to take a flyer on Hackenberg? Should they see what he can do after blowing up the roster in the offseason to go with a younger group just about everywhere? The one notable exception was signing 37-year-old quarterback Josh McCown. With an open competition declared by Todd Bowles, a decision probably won’t be rendered until late August, when he has more definitive proof whether Hackenberg, Bryce Petty or McCown should start.
The most likely scenario is going into the season with McCown, who is familiar with first-year coordinator John Morton’s West Coast system and whose savvy will be his biggest asset. McCown has been more consistent early on, no surprise considering his veteran know-how can’t be matched by Hackenberg or Petty.
But the idea is to figure out a long-term solution, and if Hackenberg can take a major step forward, he can be part of the conversation. If he continues to make mistakes like the boneheaded pass he threw early in Tuesday’s practice, he won’t be the starter. But if his progression through training camp and preseason mirrors what he did as practice wore on, he needs to be considered.
The man who will decide who plays quarterback will reserve judgment for now.
“It’s coming along pretty good,” Bowles said. “(Hackenberg) is getting a grasp of the offense and learning it. With 11 guys out there the first time, there’s going to be mistakes. But he’s coming along.”
Translation: He needs to see much more before making a final determination. Best-case scenario for Bowles is that Hackenberg at least makes it a tough decision.