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Time running out for Christian Hackenberg to get first snaps

Jets quarterback Christian Hackenberg watches from the bench,

Jets quarterback Christian Hackenberg watches from the bench, as he has for two seasons, during the second half against the Chargers on Sunday, Dec 24, 2017. Credit: Lee S. Weissman

The last time Christian Hackenberg threw a touchdown pass in a meaningful game was Nov. 28, 2015, when he played for Penn State. The last game Hackenberg played in was Jan. 2, 2016, as Penn State lost to Georgia in the Gator Bowl. He didn’t finish that game, though. Hackenberg was replaced because of injury by Trace McSorley.

Fast-forward to late 2017, and after two seasons in the NFL, it doesn’t appear Hackenberg will play for the Jets anytime soon. As the Jets enter the final game of the regular season against the Patriots, Bryce Petty will remain the starter and Hackenberg will stand on the sideline and watch as the No. 2.

“There are guys in front of him,” coach Todd Bowles said. “He’s learned two new systems, so he wasn’t ready to play. He got a lot of time in the preseason and made progress during the year. His time will come when it comes.”

Hackenberg, a 2016 second-round pick, will become only the second quarterback since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to be drafted in the second round and not play in an NFL game in his first two seasons. (The Bills’ Gene Bradley, drafted in 1980 out of Arkansas State, was the first.)

Given the Jets’ tenuous quarterback situation, that’s amazing.

Josh McCown was supposed to be the bridge until Petty or Hackenberg was ready to play. McCown was having a career year after 13 weeks but broke his left hand, ending his season.

Petty replaced him and completed 50.8 percent of his passes with three interceptions and one touchdown in two starts. The Jets went 0-2.

Bowles, however, isn’t ready to move Hackenberg into a starting spot. The only way he will play this season is if Petty is injured.

“He’s not bad,” Bowles said of Hackenberg. “Bryce is the backup quarterback. He won it in the summer. You put the backup in. You don’t put a three over a two. Christian is not that bad.”

Bowles said Hackenberg is getting first-team reps in practice. It’s not enough to warrant a full-scale quarterback controversy, but he said he is improving.

No matter what the Jets don’t say, it’s clear Hackenberg is not ready to play in an NFL game and that if he does, it will be because they have no choice.

“I think you can’t look at it that way. That’s a negative way to look at it,” Hackenberg said. “I’ve taken every mental rep I can. I’ve taken physical reps to try to build a good base and understand what I need to do. I try not to look at it that way. It’s a waste of energy. Just need to continue to focus and do what you need to do every day to be as prepared as you can when that opportunity does come.”

Hackenberg doesn’t believe he’s done enough to get time on the field . . . yet.

“Ultimately, that’s my job, to be as prepared as I can be, continue to learn and continue to grow,” he said. “Continue to do the things I’m capable of doing as long as I’m doing that, and there’s going to be bumps in the road. There’s going to be ups and downs. It’s how it is with every profession.”

The Jets, who currently have the ninth overall pick in the NFL Draft, could select a quarterback in the first round. If that occurs, would the Jets need Petty? Or Hackenberg?

The Jets, a franchise with a projected $80 million in salary-cap space for 2018, could enter the high-priced bidding war for Kirk Cousins or go cheaper and sign Teddy Bridgewater in free agency. Trading for Alex Smith is another possibility, but the Jets have few trade assets outside of their two second-round picks for 2018.

What will the Jets do with McCown, who will be a free agent and is thinking about retirement?

Such questions won’t get resolved until late April. Maybe.

New York Sports