Christian Hackenberg faces big test to determine if he will compete for starting job next season

Christian Hackenberg did not play a single down in 2016. Could that change in 2017? This offseason will help answer.

Florham Park, NJ - Christian Hackenberg is practically back in school. While his days at Penn State are over, Hackenberg faces another big test that can affect his future. Forget about SATs or LSATs; this test is more important. This offseason represents a critical exam that Hackenberg must be up for the challenge. It is up to him to try to put out the quarterback controversy fire that continuously burns on 1 Jets Drive. 

Hackenberg was taken in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Typically, second round picks tend to show small signs of success in training camp, preseason, or in games. In this case, this second rounder barely got enough time in practice to show a flash in the pan. Therefore, the verdict is still out on whether or not he was selected at the right time.

You can speculate all you want. 

Truth is, Hackenberg faces the biggest test he will ever face in his athletic career. The question: is he ready to compete for the starting quarterback position for the New York Jets

This week, owner Woody Johnson and general manager Mike Maccagnan spoke out about their rookie quarterback - without great detail. They spoke about the plan in place from the moment Hackenberg was drafted but the refused to acknowledge whether or not they believe the Penn State product has what it takes to be the next franchise quarterback. 

If it makes you feel any better, the front office said the same about Bryce Petty. Either way - it is simple - the Jets can't have success without a number one quarterback and the owner knows it.

"That's a key position. We're finding out. We're learning more about it," said Johnson. "Now we've got Bryce (Petty) and Christian Hackenberg. We don't know a lot about Christian, but we saw some good things from Bryce in the last (few) games that he played. So, we'll have to evaluate."

Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith weren't in the conversation. They likely didn't cross Johnson's mind. It is clear the front office has invested some stock in Petty and Hackenberg. 

"We started out with four quarterbacks, so there was no way that (Hackenberg) was going to get the reps to really get himself ready," said Johnson. "This is kind of a redshirt year for him. We'll see. Between now and camp, he'll have some time to get better on his own without us talking to him."

The plan from the beginning was to groom Hackenberg. Whether or not you agree with the process, Todd Bowles made the correct decision to keep Hackenberg away from the dumpster fire 2016 season. Because of the lack of reps, the quarterback had no chemistry with his receivers or offensive line and likely would struggled in Week 17. 

It also didn't help that an unnamed source went as far as saying Hackenberg "couldn't hit an ocean." 

"I guess it depends which ocean. Maybe it was a small ocean," Johnson joked. "No that's not funny. You've got to ask Todd Bowles about Christian because he's got some opinions about Christian Hackenberg. I think he has maybe a little bit of a higher opinion than that." 

It was an awkward exchange between Johnson and reporters. He tried to crack a joke when in reality, the unnamed source may have had a point by saying Hackenberg struggled all season with his accuracy and has a long way to go before he can truly compete for the starting job. 

The Jets need to look to the future and forget about this past season. The organization has another enormous question mark at quarterback - where have we heard this before? If Hackenberg wants to be 'the' guy, it starts with this offseason. This is his chance to make up for the lost practice time and tweak his mechanics to get a head start for training camp. It is critical. 

As of now - under contract - the number one quarterback is Petty with Hackenberg behind him. That sets up quite the battle between two inexperienced quarterbacks trying to shake off college systems and get fully adjusted to an NFL offense. 

This past summer, while Hackenberg didn't get a ton of looks during practice, he and Petty were some of the earliest players on the field and latest to leave the facility. That work ethic needs to continue and translate on the field. 

"I'm just trying to take my reps, trying to manufacture reps before or after practice," Hackenberg told JetsInsider this summer. "That's my mindset. Just trying to pick (the other quarterbacks') brains."

It will be more of the same - magnified by 100 - this offseason. There is more to prove. 

"From where he was initially, he has made progress. He has improved," said Maccagnan. "This will be a big offseason for him and we'll probably have a better feel for him when we go into training camp next year." 

Any regrets on using a second round pick on a quarterback that coaches redshirted? Maccagnan said: "He's only 21 years old. He has made progress. I'm not in the business of looking back. I think we're focused on making sure Christian can develop into the player and fulfill a potential we think he has." 

Can Hackenberg be the next franchise quarterback for the Jets? If he wants to be, the process resumes this spring.  

WATCH: In the video above, Hackenberg is asked in his final locker room session of the season if he thinks he can compete in the NFL. 

Joe Barone is a staff writer for He can be reached on Twitter (@28JoeBarone) or via email (


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