As we reviewed in spring practice, Christian Hackenberg proved to be a "damn good swimmer" when he was "pushed into the pool" as a true freshman. As Big Ten Freshman of the Year, he went 231 of 392 for 2,955 yards, with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Despite this performance, James Franklin's staff has continued to put a lot of work in improving the quarterback's game.
Aside from adding size and getting stronger all-around, but particularly "up top" with his upper body, Hackenberg has continued to "smooth his mechanics" and "really focused on making everything second nature." As one observer explained, "It's one thing to have the ability to do things, it's entirely different when you don't have to think about doing those things and get them to become natural reactions."
Aside from the steady physical improvement of his play, "his confidence continues to skyrocket." Observers stress that this has not resulted in any growing arrogance or "ego," which "the coaches watch closely with everyone." Hackenberg came out of spring work very pleased with the performance he showed the new staff, which gave him “a nice boost." The biggest confidence boost was when his teammates gave him the nod as PSU's youngest captain ever. "I don't think he was expecting it, but meant a ton to him to have teammates and coaches believe in him like that."
Confidence: Overall, he's been "very calm" in pressure situations, which the staff throw at him. Across the board observers feel Hackenberg's confidence may be his best asset at this stage. As one observer explained, "They talk about balance — confidence can breed arrogance and stupid decisions. He seems to have a handle on this most of the time, but he likes to take risks, too."
Passing: Hackenberg's passing continues to be consistent. He's improving on "leading targets," which was a focal point of the spring and carried into the preseason work. "He's really working on understanding the young receivers’ tendencies." He's worked on throttling back his passes for the receivers when necessary. As stated previously, he's also been working to "smooth his motion out."
Mobility: The staff has worked on making him more versatile, particularly with his feet. "They aren't looking to making a running QB, but he can move and he's strong, and they are looking to use that to move the pocket, pull the defense or exploit some breakdowns.”
Focus: Hackenberg has been "incredibly coachable," taking in extra sessions and asking for critiques on his practice. "He pushes on every snap." Described as a "heads down" type of player, he is said to have a full understanding of the playbook and has "adapted well" to what James Franklin's staff has shifted and thrown at him.
Leadership: Although he stepped right in and "took charge in the huddle," some feel his new captain title has given him "permission to be a primary leader for the squad." As one observer said, "He led in the huddle, but as a freshman, it's tough to step into a leadership role in the locker room." Some say he's now "owning" that role this preseason.
Impact: With young receivers, Hackenberg is obviously a primary weapon for the offense. The coaches have concerns with how much Hackenberg has to shoulder as a sophomore — and on the physical side have given him down time now and then to keep him fresh — but he continues to impress with how he is handling it all.