History Shows Reasons for Jets to Back Hack

By Glenn Naughton


When the New York Jets chose Penn State Quarterback Christian Hackenberg in the second round of the NFL draft, the reactions were predictably mixed among the Gang Green faithful.  Some chose to focus on his early results, his 20 touchdown 10 interception freshman season under Head Coach Bill O’ Brien in his pro-style offense.

The skeptics dismissed his inaugural college season and put his regression over the next two campaigns under the microscope.

Seeing his completion percentage dwindle from 58.9% in year one, to 55.8% in year two, before posting a paltry 53.5% rate last season paired with taking over 100 sacks during hist time at Penn State had some fans shaking their heads in disbelief over the selection.

The two sides remain split. The optimists and the pessimists, but there was one thing that was almost unanimous among Jets fans, and that was that year-one should be a redshirt season for Hackenberg.  Keeping him on the bench to learn the nuances of an NFL offense behind whatever quarterback lines up under center on Sunday’s seemed to be the general consensus.

In fairness, you can’t blame Jets fans for wanting to take it slow.  Some are still shell-shocked from the nauseating performances turned in by Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith over their first two pro seasons as both were thrust in to starting roles immediately and combined for 89 turnovers while producing just 54 touchdowns.  An average of 13 touchdowns and 22 turnovers per season.  Good luck winning with numbers like that in today’s NFL.

Aaron Rodgers, the poster boy for letting a quarterback sit and learn as he did behind Brett Favre for so many years appears to be a popular reference point in how to go about developing Hackenberg.  However, there are multiple examples of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks as well as a few highly regarded youngsters who played early and often despite being viewed as “unprepared” by many:

Ben Roethlisberger: The two-time Super Bowl winner and future Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steeler was chosen in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft out of the University of Miami, Ohio.  A small school that rarely lined up against big time defenses.  As a result, the Steelers plan was to sit the rookie behind veteran quarterback Tommy Maddox who was subsequently injured in week 3.  With Maddox out, “Big Ben” was forced in to action and all he did was go 13-0 while earning a trip to the AFC Championship game.  Pittsburgh relied heavily on their defense and running game as Roethlisberger threw 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while completing 66.4% of his passes.

Russell Wilson: A fourth round choice of the Seattle Seahawks out of the University of Wisconsin, Wilson was described on his NFL.com draft profile as a player that a team might “take a late flier on” despite an otherwise glowing report.  The Seahawks had just signed free agent Matt Flynn to a three-year $26 million contract but Wilson wowed the Seahawks coaching staff from the minute training camp started, and with an excellent defense and running game led Seattle to an 11-5 record and a first-round playoff win before winning the Super Bowl one year later.

Joe Flacco:  Like Roethlisberger, Flacco was a small school product out of the University of Delaware where the level of competition was nowhere near what he would see in the pro’s (or what Hackenberg would have seen at Penn State).  Even still, he got the nod as a rookie and led the Ravens to an 11-5 finish.  While Flacco undoubtedly benefited from Rex Ryan’s 3rd ranked scoring defense, he held his own, piloting what would be the 11th highest scoring offense in the NFL.

Three young quarterbacks who many, including their own team’s, expected  to sit and learn but who had a great deal of success early on due largely in part to a strong defense and running game with veteran playmakers.  Sound familiar?

The list of successful young quarterbacks isn’t limited to recent Super Bowl winners either.

Oregon product Marcus Mariota impressed as a rookie.
Oregon product Marcus Mariota impressed as a rookie.

Marcus Mariota: The Tennessee Titans selected Mariota with the second overall pick in last years draft out of the University of Oregon where he ran an up-tempo offense that required little decision-making and called on quick reads and throws.  With that being the case, many pundits viewed Mariota as a multi-year project who was far from NFL-ready.  Despite struggling with the deep ball, Mariota was very impressive in his rookie campaign, tossing 19 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions while completing 62.2% of his passes.

Derek Carr: A second-round choice of the Oakland Raiders out of Fresno State in 2014, Carr has quickly become one of the better young quarterbacks in the NFL.  The strong-armed signal caller has piled up 53 TD’s through his first two pro seasons, out-performing Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles who was the 3rd overall choice in that same draft.

Blake Bortles:  Yes, Carr has outperformed Bortles thus far, but that’s not to say Bortles isn’t another fast riser who many franchises, the Jets included, would love to have.  Much like several of the aforementioned QB’s, Bortles played mostly lower level competition as a student at the University of Central Florida and was supposed to get the same redshirt treatment that Jets fans are hoping for with Hackenberg.

After being selected by Jacksonville, the Jaguars said their plan was to sit Bortles for a full season to let him develop the “right way”.  Well, that full season on the bench lasted all of 3 games.  Bortles was the Jaguars starter by week four of his rookie season after playing just two full seasons at UCF and he hasn’t looked back.  After a promising rookie season, Bortles looked even better in year two, throwing 35 touchdowns.

So while keeping a QB off the field may feel like the “safe” way to go, recent history has shown us plenty of examples of quarterbacks who have thrived in the NFL when put on the field sooner than expected wnen the supporting cast was strong enough to overcome the deficiencies that go along with a rookie quarterback.

Should the Jets entertain the notion of doing the same thing with Christian Hackenberg?

It may be a bit too early to rule out the possibility as offensive coordinater Chan Gailey was asked about the rookie at a recent charity event and had this to say according to newsday.com:

“He retained a great deal from the pro-style type of offense that Bill [O’Brien] had,” Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey said Monday of his newest quarterback. “So he’s ahead in that respect, but he’s behind in seeing what’s going to happen to him defensively in the NFL.”

Maybe the Jets should try something different this time around.

Don’t hand the starting quarterback job to any of the QB’s in camp.  Hold a legitimate training camp competition.  Geno Smith, Hackenberg, Bryce Petty, and Ryan Fitzpatrick should he return.  Let the fight it out, and If Hackenberg, the rookie, is the best of the bunch, put him under center and march forward with what is hopefully, once and for all, the solution the Jets decades-old search for a franchise quarterback.

Jets Edge Jaguars, 28-23

It wasn’t pretty, but the Jets survived a sloppy game to defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars 28-23, and improve their record to 5-3.

The Jets came in looking to avoid their third straight loss after coming up short against New England and being embarrassed in Oakland last week. The defense, especially, was looking to make a statement after being abysmal in California.

There was good news at the start of the game for the Jets to begin with. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, wide receiver Brandon Marshall, and center Nick Mangold, all battling injuries, started the game today.

The Jaguars drew first blood on their first drive with a field goal, but the Jets offense responded with a touchdown from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to wide receiver Eric Decker. Jacksonville’s next drive was then cut short, when a ball that went off the receivers hands and was intercepted by cornerback Marcus Williams.

The Jets were able to make the interception count, adding another score on a touchdown run by running back Chris Ivory, and increasing their lead to 14-3.

Things turned ugly towards the end of the half. Nick Folk somehow injured himself and couldn’t play. Nick Mangold left after aggravating his neck injury. Offensive play calling became way too conservative, allowing Jacksonville to get the ball back on the 50 yard line after another awful Ryan Quigley punt, with enough time left to score a touchdown, which they did. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles and wide receiver Allen Hurns embarrassed Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, getting him to bite on a move and then easily scoring a TD. It took them less than a minute to go 50 yards.

The Jets led at the end of the first half 14-10, but the offense was unable to convert their first drive of the half, and Jacksonville pulled within a point, 14-13 with a field goal in the mid third quarter.

New York finally showed some offensive life late in the third quarter, on the back of two big plays. One from Fitzpatrick to tight end Jeff Cumberland for 48 yards, and another from Fitzpatrick to Ivory on a screen play. Ivory then ran the ball in from the 1 for touchdown.

Jacksonville added another field goal to make the score 21-16, and the teams traded possession. The Jaguars had the ball when linebacker Calvin Pace hit Blake Bortles with about five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, causing the fumble. Pace then recovered the fumble.

The Jets couldn’t take advantage of the turnover, and punted, but the Jaguars punt returner, Nick Marshall, muffed the punt, and Kellen Davis, a Jets tight end, recovered the ball on the Jacksonville 25 yard line.

And Fitzpatrick and Marshall made them pay. It took three plays for the Jets to reach the endzone, and upped the lead to 28-16.

It was a good thing they did, too, because the Jaguars went 72 yards for a touchdown on three plays. Cornerback Buster Skrine, not having his best game for the Jets, allowed two big gains. Brandon Marshall recovered Jacksonville’s onside kick at midfield.

But the Jets ended up having to punt again, even after Ivory fumbled and the Jets managed to hang on to possession.

In the game’s final twist, Williams again picked off Bortles with a minute left, ensuring the Jets’ victory.

Ryan Fitzpatrick’s final line on the day was 21/34 for 272 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions, and 106.5 quarterback rating. He was sacked twice for 11 yards.

Eric Decker led the Jets in receiving with six receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown. Kenbrell Thompkins followed with four receptions for 45 yards, and Brandon Marshall with four receptions for 44 yards and a touchdown.

Chris Ivory led the Jets in rushing with 23 carries for 26 yards and two touchdowns, though it wasn’t a good day for the running game.

Safety Dion Bailey led the defense in tackles with six, followed by Darrelle Revis with five. The defense had five total sacks. Bailey, Sheldon Richardson, Marcus Williams, and Leonard Williams each had half a sack. Lorenzo Mauldin had two by himself.

The Jets have a short week this week. They take the field on Thursday night when Rex Ryan returns to the Meadowlands as head coach of the 4-4 Buffalo Bills. Kickoff is at 8:25.

The QB Rumor Mill

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New York JetsGeno Smith finished his rookie season with a QB rating of 66.5.  He started all 16 games and threw 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.  When you have those kind of numbers, you can usually expect to have to fight for a starting position the next season.  Geno showed a lot of improvement in the last few games of the year, so there are reasons to be optimistic.  That said, the Jets are expected to bring in competition for Geno Smith and not hand him anything going into next year.

The next starting QB of the Jets will need to earn it.

That means the rumor mill is running at full force.  Here are some threads on the recent names in the rumor mill.

It seems like Matt Simms will have to settle on being the #3 QB next season.  The Jets don’t seem to like the idea of having an inexperienced backup.  Also, here is a thread on Geno Smith as well for your reading pleasure.