FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Christian Hackenberg again received a heavy dose of reps with the Jets’ first-team offense in practice Thursday, the continuation of a rotation with presumptive starter Josh McCown that began last week. But Todd Bowles stopped short of saying Hackenberg is about to move ahead of McCown on the depth chart.
Bowles offered at least a hint that McCown will start Saturday night’s second preseason game against the Lions at Ford Field, which would mean the 38-year-old would be one step closer to being named the starter heading into the regular season.
Asked if he anticipates any changes to the starting lineup, Bowles said, “I would say no, but we’ll discuss it tonight. I can’t discuss it without discussing it with the coaches.”
Hackenberg slowly has been folded in with the starters during practice, and he took most of the snaps in last Saturday’s preseason opener against the Titans. McCown started and drove the Jets for a touchdown on their opening drive in a 7-3 win, but he gave way to Hackenberg after the first series.
The second-year quarterback out of Penn State received extensive playing time through the third quarter and completed 18 of 25 for 127 yards. He didn’t have any touchdown passes, but he didn’t throw any interceptions, either. He also didn’t throw downfield consistently, settling instead for short passes.
Would Bowles like to see Hackenberg take some deeper shots?
“We had plays built in, but I don’t want him to force anything,” he said. “We have plays built in to throw downfield, but if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. But we do have plays for all of them to throw downfield.”
Hackenberg said earlier in the week that he’s intent on making the right decision rather than forcing the ball and risking a turnover.
“I think there are certain plays where there are decisions that we have to make in the two or three seconds that we have the ball in our hands that can lead to it either being a good decision or bad decision,” he said. “Play-calling is something where Coach can dial up something when he feels that the look is there. There are shots built into that play. Also for us, just situationally understanding second-and-short, maybe take a shot, but second-and-9, no, let’s try to get to third-and-manageable. Those types of things play into it and frame into the situation of the game.”
Bowles still has time to make a final call on his starter, but teams generally like to go into the third preseason game with a better idea of their No. 1 quarterback and give him the bulk of the snaps in the next-to-last dress rehearsal. That means it’s likely that whoever starts next week against the Giants will be the Jets’ Week 1 starter at Buffalo.
So Bowles wouldn’t speculate on what might happen based on the performances of Hackenberg and McCown against the Lions, although it appears almost certain that this now is a two-man race. Bryce Petty has struggled to pick up first-year coordinator John Morton’s system, and there were more missed passes and a bad interception Thursday.
Bowles has the luxury of knowing what he has in McCown, entering his 16th season, so giving Hackenberg the extra work won’t necessarily take away from McCown’s preparation.
“Josh has played a long time,” Bowles said. “We’ll give certain guys more [reps] and it will work itself out in the end. I don’t think [McCown] needs to go every [preseason] game all four quarters or anything like that. He’ll play. He needs some work.”