FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — When offensive coordinator John Morton said of Christian Hackenberg, “Basically, he’s a rookie,” it was with no disrespect for the young quarterback or the year he already has spent with the Jets. It was in the context of how Hackenberg is progressing without the benefit of much preparation.
And it was with the understanding that Morton, too, is a rookie. He spoke before practice Tuesday about the excitement of putting on the headset in the preseason game Saturday, knowing that after 19 years in various jobs as an assistant, he was a coordinator for the first time. “I love it. I was trained for this,” said the man who worked for the Raiders when they reached the Super Bowl and the Saints when they made it to the NFC Championship Game. “The other night, it was just awesome.”
Among the highlights was watching Hackenberg, 22, who never did get to throw a regular-season pass for the 2016 Jets but could throw many of them this year, perhaps eventually as a starter.
“There’s no timetable here,” Morton said. “That’s what training camp is for. We’ve only had one preseason game. We’ll see what happens the next few weeks. Whatever the situation was, whatever the type of throw it was, I thought he handled it very nicely. He was poised. Basically, he’s a rookie. I’m not going to talk about specific things he needs to work on. It’s everything. And that’s with every position.
“We’re still in evaluation mode, we’re still in training camp mode. We’re just asking them, ‘OK this is the situation, let’s do this. This is what happened last time, let’s not do that.’ That’s with everybody.”
Hackenberg and veteran quarterback Josh McCown and the entire offense had one of their best days of camp on Tuesday, looking more crisp than they had the previous day, when coach Todd Bowles was so unhappy he made the whole team run sprints. At one point during the indoor practice, Hackenberg connected on a 50-yard touchdown play to Dan Williams (who left practice with an apparent hand injury).
The quarterback referred to his continuing education on what he called “situational understanding,” adding, “Second and short, maybe take a shot. Second and nine, no, let’s try to get a completion and get it to third-and-manageable.” The pass to Williams was a definite “go” all the way, he said, with a smile.
He was not as sanguine when he was asked about 2016: “I just think it’s two totally different situations. I’ve said it, I don’t really like comparing last year to this year. It’s a new year. I learned from last year things that helped me grow and put me in the situation I’m in now.” When he was told of Morton’s “rookie” comment, Hackenberg said, “I don’t think I’d say that. I just feel good with the opportunities that I’ve been given and being able to go out and take advantage of them this year.”
Fact is, though, in his first year out of Penn State, he was effectively redshirted. “Last year, there were three quarterbacks ahead of him,” Bowles said. “I’m happy where he is right now. He’s learning it, he doesn’t make the same mistake too many times. He’ll get better from there.”
McCown said he is “very impressed with his athleticism.” Bryce Petty, the third-stringer, said the dynamic among the three competitors for the marquee position is “awesome.”
Morton said it will be up to Bowles to determine how much each will play and who will be No. 1. The rookie coordinator has been undaunted by the fact he did not inherit an abundance of riches when it comes to talent. He has installed an up-tempo pace of practice and upbeat outlook in the face of what might be a rough season.
“I like the whole group,” Morton said. “They work their butts off every single day. We’ll see how this thing shakes out.”