NORTH CALDWELL, N.J. — In some ways, Christian Hackenberg is already ahead of the curve.
“He retained a great deal from the pro-style type of offense that Bill [O’Brien] had,” Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey said Monday of his newest quarterback. “So he’s ahead in that respect, but he’s behind in seeing what’s going to happen to him defensively in the NFL.”
Hackenberg, the team’s second-round pick, was one of the most polarizing prospects of this year’s class given his declining production after O’Brien left Penn State to coach the Houston Texans after the 2013 season. But Gailey, a grizzled veteran coach with extensive history working with NFL quarterbacks, sees “a lot of positives” in Hackenberg’s game.
Not only did he rave about the young signal-caller’s arm, but also Hackenberg’s smarts. He also highlighted the quarterback’s decision-making.
“He’s a very sharp young man, very sharp,” Gailey said before hitting the holes at linebacker David Harris’ charity golf event.
The coordinator said he wasn’t “in the room” when the Jets’ front office agreed to take Hackenberg with the 51st overall pick. But Gailey noted general manager Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles included coaches in the pre-draft workouts and meetings.
“Mike and Todd thought the potential was there,” he said, referring to Hackenberg. “And I think he’s got a great deal of potential.”
So how much time does the rookie need before he can be on the field?
“I don’t have an answer to that. If I had an answer to that, I’d be in high demand,” Gailey said, smiling.
The Jets were in a somewhat similar position last year when they selected Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty in the fourth round. But unlike Hackenberg, the Jets knew Petty would be a project who wouldn’t see the field in Year 1 and possibly in Year 2.
Hackenberg’s draft status as a second-rounder, along with his brief experience in a pro-style offense, gives the Jets reason for optimism. But for the time being, they have two young quarterbacks who need developing, as well as Geno Smith, the presumptive starter if veteran free agent Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t re-sign.
Maccagnan has floated out the possibility of keeping four quarterbacks on the roster — a scenario Gailey has never been a part of. Though the coordinator acknowledged it’s certainly a possibility, it also poses some challenges for the coaching staff because of the limited reps.
“Can you keep guys around that you think are developmental possibilities? We do that every year,” he said. “You can’t give them enough reps to develop. That’s the problem you have. There’s a certain number of snaps you have in preseason practice, you have a certain number of snaps in preseason games. So there’s not a lot of wiggle room for getting guys the reps they need. And so, you have to understand it’s going to be a slower process.”
Petty, the Jets’ third-stringer last year, made “big strides in one year,” Gailey said.
And Smith? “I think he’s made giant steps too,” he added.
Fitzpatrick had a career resurgence last season playing under Gailey, his former head coach in Buffalo. But despite their longstanding history, Gailey said he isn’t wasting time worrying about the contract standoff between Fitzpatrick and the Jets.
“We all know there’s a business side to this,” he said. “So I don’t get too bent out of shape about that. I just coach whoever’s in the building.”