GLENDALE, Ariz. — While the media envelops Ryan Fitzpatrick in a sea of microphones and cameras each week, Christian Hackenberg sits at his locker stall, relatively unnoticed, and the rookie quarterback is perfectly content to have it that way.
The Jets’ 2016 second-round draft pick may be the future face of the franchise, but for now, he’s consumed with just getting better.
“I know what I want to do and I know where I want to be, moving forward,” Hackenberg told Newsday recently. “I know what is expected of me from the people that gave me a chance to play in this league. So my goal is to be the best that I can be, and when my opportunity is given to me, be as prepared as I can.”
Rookie quarterbacks have earned plenty of hype this season. Fourth-round pick Dak Prescott has made an impressive case for taking Tony Romo’s job in Dallas. No. 2 overall selection Carson Wentz turned Philly fans into true believers with a 3-0 start. In the absence of a suspended Tom Brady and an injured Jimmy Garoppolo, third-rounder Jacoby Brissett guided the Patriots to a Week 2 win over Miami and earned his first victory as a starter the following week against Houston.
And then there’s Hackenberg, who’s last on the depth chart behind Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith and Bryce Petty.
The Penn State product was the fourth quarterback off the board during the draft, behind Jared Goff (No. 1 overall, Rams), Wentz and Paxton Lynch (first round, Broncos). Five of the first eight quarterbacks selected have started at least one game (Prescott, Wentz, Lynch, Brissett and Browns third-rounder Cody Kessler). Hackenberg insisted he’s “not too worried about that. Like, good for them. But I have to worry about myself. And that’s my main focus. Just worrying about me.
“People have so many different journeys that have been successful,” said Hackenberg, who trained during the draft process with quarterback instructor Jordan Palmer, younger brother of Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer.
The Jets’ plan all along was to give him time to develop — all season, in fact. If he were given a choice, Hackenberg would prefer to be on the field. But he also understands the positives of a redshirt season.
“I think that’s really valuable,” said Hackenberg, who completed 17 of 47 passes for 159 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in two preseason games. “It’s kind of hard because if I go on the record saying, ‘I’m cool with it,’ then it’ll be ‘Oh, he’s not a competitor.’ . . . I think, really, the situation is what it is, and I have to be able to adapt to that. So I’ll compete during my scout-team reps in practice. And then every day is an opportunity to learn and every day is building toward that opportunity that I’m going to get to play.
“My whole goal this year is to get as many reps as possible at everything — whether it be film, practice, whatever I can. Whether I physically do it or I watch. And then really have a good plan going into this offseason to try and bring everything together. So the competitor in me is understanding of the situation and I really just want to maximize that.”
The Jets’ 1-4 start hasn’t altered the front office’s 2016 plan for him. At least not yet.
Hackenberg was one of the most polarizing prospects in the draft because of his issues with accuracy and consistency. The Jets’ coaching staff already has acknowledged that his mechanics needed tinkering.
“It’s like a golfer. You don’t want to change his swing midseason,” quarterbacks coach Kevin Patullo said in August, though he declined to say whether Hackenberg’s mechanics needed a complete overhaul.
During training camp, offensive coordinator Chan Gailey said: “It’s hard to change guys completely mechanically in a preseason situation. You let him do what got him here, and then you take a full offseason. That’s where you implement real changes if you think it’s necessary. In general, it takes thousands of reps to change a habit.”
Hackenberg said right now he’s able to “try new things” in practice (for example, his dropback) and then gauge how it feels “with a certain route or a certain concept.’’
“People have different opinions about how you throw it, but Geno throws it differently from me, Fitz throws it differently from everyone. So there’s no blueprint to what’s the perfect way to throw a football,” he said. “So I think a lot of it just has to do with being comfortable within the system and marrying your feet and your timing with the routes, with the defense. And it doesn’t just happen overnight. There’s a lot of reps that have to be taken, you have to see it, you have to feel it, you have to understand what you need to get it there. And usually, when everything’s in sync, it’s a positive outcome.”