Hackenberg not getting fair chance to win Jets QB 'competition'

The Jets’ self-described three-way open quarterback competition has been nothing of the sort through a peculiar first week of training camp that has prompted fair questions about a mysterious plan at the most pivotal position.

Todd Bowles has tried to sell the idea that Josh McCown, Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty will each have a fair opportunity to win the starting job, but only Kool-Aid guzzlers of the highest order would buy that at the moment.

McCown has worked exclusively with the starters through the first seven practices, while Hackenberg has taken second-team reps.

Petty has picked up the scraps with guys, who will working 9-to-5s next month, exposing the truth about his chances: He’s Milton, toiling in the basement with his stapler. He won’t be the Week 1 starter. (Now let’s just hope he doesn’t burn the whole damn place to ground after being marginalized).

It was supposed to be The Summer of Hack, a critical time to fully evaluate Mike Maccagnan’s second-round pick from a year ago, before the organization determines whether they’ll go all-in for Sam Darnold, Josh Allen or Josh Rosen in the 2018 draft.

Bowles insists that “we don’t have a starter,” yet McCown has received the starter treatment to this point. Maccagnan maintains that “they’re all going to have their opportunities,” but every objective observer can see that Hackenberg has not yet received a fair chance to prove what he can do with the first team before the first preseason game against the Titans this weekend.

Although Hackenberg still has time this summer to impress the organization, the team’s plan early in camp has been puzzling. It’s unfair to call it a full-fledged charade, because there still is time for Hackenberg to get chances later in camp, but the brain trust’s path remains unclear.

Bowles said that there is no timetable for declaring a starter, but logic suggests that a decision should be made in the run-up to the third preseason game against the Giants on Aug. 26. The head coach said last week that he would re-allocate the rep distribution “when (Hackenberg and/or Petty) start to impress me.”

There have been predictable ebbs and flows for Hackenberg in the first week.

The good: He has been interception-free in 11-on-11 team drills.

The bad: He’s taken too many sacks.

The ugly: Even at 6-4, 228 pounds, he’ll be banged up beyond recognition if he isn’t more decisive in the pocket.

MAY 23, 2017, FILE PHOTO

Christian Hackenberg

(Julio Cortez/AP)

Hackenberg is still learning, but there are moments when he flashes the skill that makes you think that he has a chance to be the answer to the franchise’s most maddening question.

He exhibited poise, functional mobility and accuracy on a 25-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Jordan Leggett in the team’s scrimmage at MetLife Stadium on Saturday. He felt pressure from a blitzing linebacker, stepped up in the pocket and rifled the pass for a score.

“I’m always confident in my ways,” Hackenberg said about whether he could have made that play last year. “I think it’s different. You learn, you see things, and you gain some experience and you feel some things. It’s just one of those things that you just do. I didn’t really think about that play, it just happened. It’s one of those things that is hard to be able to reflect on whether or not I (would have done) it last year or not. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.”

Hackenberg’s learning process will extend beyond camp and the preseason, of course, but it was an encouraging moment for a player, who deserves an opportunity to at least get practice reps with the starters. Remember: He’s been taking reps with a collection of inexperienced journeymen or undrafted pass catchers, who haven’t exactly been consistently winning their one-on-one matchups with cornerbacks.

How can the brain trust fully and fairly evaluate Hackenberg when he’s not playing with or against the best talent on the roster?

It’s no surprise that a 38-year-old quarterback with 13 more years of experience would exhibit better command of the offense, but the organization’s top priority in this rebuilding season must be extracting the best out of Hackenberg.

The sentiment on One Jets Drive is that new quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates already has done wonders with Hackenberg in their few short months together, but there’s no real rush to get the second-year signal caller under center for the season opener.

Bottom line: The Jets owe it to themselves to give Hackenberg at least an 8-10 game sample size this season.

There are pros and cons to starting Hackenberg at Buffalo in Week 1, but the powers that be should not force the issue if he’s not ready.

Of course, how will they actually know that if he’s not even given the chance to practice with the starters?

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