Eagles Wake-Up Call: Hackenberg’s Advantage

How Bill O'Brien improved Christian Hackenberg's draft stock.

Christian Hackenberg. (USA Today Sports)

Christian Hackenberg. (USA Today Sports)

INDIANAPOLIS — Quarterbacks came and went for several hours at the NFL Combine on Thursday to address the media. While their backgrounds and styles of play varied wildly, they all shared one sentiment: it’s a tough transition from college to professional football.

But one quarterback, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, identified one advantage he thinks he has over others.

“I’ve dealt with a lot of NFL-type situations as far as adversity,” Hackenberg said. “Handling a lot of things; handling a shorter deck. We were playing with 43 guys on scholarship my freshman year. I played in a pro system my freshman year. Understood it really well and picked it up quickly and was able to roll with it.”

Hackenberg arrived at Penn State the year after the NCAA imposed significant sanctions on the football program. As a freshman, he had his most productive year in college with career-highs in passer rating, touchdowns, completion percentage and yards per attempt.

However, Bill O’Brien left to become the Texans head coach after Hackenberg’s freshman season, and the quarterback’s play plateaued under a new coach in a different scheme. Still, Hackenberg sees some benefits from the change.

“Having to change systems was huge for me as well. Being able to pick that up and translate things and see what crosses over. Overall, the entire experience was a huge positive for me. There was a ton of adversity,” Hackenberg said. “But it was stuff you’re going to deal with at this level. You see it year in and year out. Changing systems. New coaches. New personnel.

“So it was a great experience for me, having the opportunity to do that at 18-19 years old. It’s only prepared me for the rest of my career.”

O’Brien brought the pro-style offense Hackenberg started out in from the Patriots, where he was the offensive coordinator. The quarterback quickly blossomed, and he now attributes learning that scheme to improving his NFL readiness.

“Having that base, playing in that system was huge. Just talking terminology-wise, the tape that I watched, things that I had access to. He had just gotten done coaching Tom Brady, who is one of the best that ever played,” Hackenberg said. “Having that at 18, having all of those tools available and being able to tap those resources really helped me develop a good base in terms of football knowledge, defensive knowledge.”

Hackenberg also opined that his fundamentals don’t need to be “retooled,” but rather he simply needs to be more consistent. He cited footwork as his biggest problem, which led to inaccurate throws while moving around the pocket. His up-and-down college career is why opinions vary so much as to where he’ll be drafted, but some expect him to be selected as high as in the first round.

For the last six to eight weeks, Hackenberg has worked with Jordan Palmer, Carson’s brother. After spending a week studying his own film, Hackenberg and Palmer broke down the defenses of the Broncos, Packers and Panthers. The quarterback drew up blitzes and pressures and worked to accelerate the terminology learning curve.

Although Hackenberg is hoping his history with O’Brien makes his transition to the NFL smoother, it will still be a big jump.

“It’s just a totally different ball game,” O’Brien said. “It’s difficult. It’s not an easy process to play quarterback for this league. It takes a long time to develop.”


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With a new offensive-minded head coach in Doug Pederson and a new defensive coordinator in Jim Schwartz, the Eagles have changed the way they evaluate talent. And they had just over a month from the time the new coaching staff was assembled to the NFL Scouting Combine this week.

“We had all our scouts, when they came in, meet with our coaching staff and go through position by position, what were the traits they were looking for, what were the deal-breakers for them?” vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said. “Which is important. So we were able to articulate, they were able to ask questions back about, ‘Would this be a deal-breaker?'”

Before the combine this year, the Eagles spent more time than usual going over which players would fit their schemes. Roseman said they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss anybody for that reason.

Jimmy Kempski says the Eagles should consider drafting multiple quarterbacks.

So here’s a thought — Why not draft two? When asked about the Redskins’ decision on Cousins in 2012, Pederson replied, “I think it was smart to do that.”

As long as you’re developing one rookie quarterback, possibly in the early rounds, you may as well go ahead and try to develop two simultaneously. “Young QB2” can push “Young QB1” (and vice versa) from a competition standpoint, while being able to lean on each other from a learning perspective.

This draft in particular makes a ton of sense to go that route. While there are no sure-fire number one overall type quarterback prospects, there could be as many as four or five taken in the first round, and around possibly 15 or more taken overall. It’s not extremely top-heavy, but it is deep.


We’ll have more news and notes from Indy.