As a true freshman in 2013, Christian Hackenberg was "pushed into the pool, but was a damn good swimmer," as one observer put it. Obviously it's no secret to anyone in the conference and probably the college football world, considering he was Big Ten Freshman of the Year, going 231 of 392 for 2,955 yards, with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. However, only a sophomore-to-be, and under the direction of a new coaching staff, we figured it made sense to get an initial assessment on his progress this spring.
Hackenberg's added about 14 pounds this off-season, carrying 234 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame. "He's stronger and the weight is a byproduct of that." He's bigger, stronger, "more confident and commanding" of Penn State's offense.
Grasp: Hackenberg "looks increasingly comfortable running the offense. He's learning a lot of new playbook, but it's built around his skill set." He's reportedly picked up the bulk of the changes in Franklin's scheme "quickly and effectively." Franklin has been very up front about tailoring his offense to the skills of his starting QB — not the other way around — and that has definitely been the case so far, which has helped Hackenberg quickly transition.
Passing: Hackenberg's passing has been "very sharp at different levels." He's getting better "leading his receivers" and "realizes where his receivers helped him out largely last season, he now needs to do the same for the young receivers now."
Focus: He's been working on refining his play with game elements on play-action, check-downs, roll-outs and even jump passes, "trying to smooth it all out." Ricky Rahne is said to be very impressed with his "skill set and coach-ability."
Leadership: Hackenberg has also been praised as a strong leader on offense, despite still technically being a true freshman (remember, he enrolled last summer). That is obviously important because QB is a natural position of leadership. "He's one of your natural go-to guys on and off the field." This is a trait the Franklin regime strongly desires in their quarterbacks. "They want guys under center who take control and build confidence in the rest of the team." Another strong sign of this is him working with the younger QGs like Michael O'Connor, Austin Whipple and D.J. Crook. "He reviews technique and things they need to do in situations."
Impact: "Hack will have to shoulder more of the load to get the receivers to where they need to be, but he's really working with them," according to one observer. There's little doubt or concern with his abilities to "take charge" or "command the offense," and is obviously viewed and "huge weapon for the offense."