FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Christian Hackenberg may not be ready just yet to be a full-time NFL starter, but the Jets quarterback had his strongest practice of the offseason on Tuesday.
Taking reps behind veteran Josh McCown, Hackenberg was 11-for-14 with the second-team offense. Though he wasn’t perfect — he threw an interception to cornerback Morris Claiborne — the 2015 second-round pick showed command and much-improved accuracy.
Of course, one strong practice does not a starter make. But it was a positive step for a quarterback who could one day (perhaps this season) find himself leading a young Jets team.
Coach Todd Bowles said he already has a time frame on naming the No. 1 quarterback, adding: “I have an idea — somewhere between, obviously, maybe after the third preseason game, but it could change.”
But until then, according to the organization, it’s a wide-open competition between McCown (who turns 38 in July), Hackenberg (22) and Bryce Petty (26).
McCown conceded, however, that there are challenges when trying to assess the development of a young quarterback who’s playing with mostly inexperienced teammates on offense.
“Obviously, yeah, to make a fair evaluation of a quarterback you’re as good as the 10 guys around you. And so, if those guys are executing at a high level, then it’s appropriate to make a fair judgment,” McCown said in the locker room, hours before he had a pass plucked out of the air by defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who returned it down the sideline for a touchdown.
“But at the same time, you can still observe and tell if a guy is doing what he’s supposed to do and whether a quarterback’s eyes and his decision-making are going the right place with the ball. If you have young guys outside that aren’t necessarily running the right route, that’s understandable and it happens. But it doesn’t necessarily mean you can say well, it’s not the quarterback’s fault if that happens. You can still evaluate, absolutely and these reps are valuable for all of us. So yes, obviously, it doesn’t help, but at the same time I think we’re all in it together and that’s part of the leadership; bringing those guys along as a quarterback and no matter who you have in your huddle, getting those guys to play at the standard that we set.”
Before players hit the practice field, McCown raved about Hackenberg’s improvement on the field and in the classroom.
“I feel like his confidence has grown every day and he improves every day. And you can see that,” said the veteran. “His grasp of the system has been really good and the coaches are doing a heck of a job of teaching him. He’s just taking to coaching and you see it rep by rep, his improvement. I think that’s cool.
. . . I feel like he’s improved tremendously and Obviously he’s a big strong guy that can make all the throws. And so that part’s attractive. Now, it’s just getting him to a level in this offense where he feels really comfortable in this offense. But I’m really proud of how both he and Bryce have come in and worked and it’s been fun competing with those guys.”