The fourth game of an NFL preseason is often held in a low-light, by the fans at least. By the fourth fixture in August, the biggest roster decisions have likely already been made. Starters will be rested and with third and fourth string quarterbacks leading offenses, there isn’t a tremendous amount for casual fans to get excited about. But for the players on the field, the coaches on the sideline and the analysts with pens in hand, it’s the biggest preseason game of them all.
Players are fighting for their NFL futures and with years of hard work hanging in the balance, a highlight play or heartbreaking mistake could be all the difference. For quarterback Christian Hackenberg, there’s even more chips on the table.
The former second-round pick was traded to Oakland by the New York Jets after what looked like a fracture from within. Frustrated that there was no direct feedback on where to improve mechanically, Hackenberg fell out of favor long before golden boy Sam Darnold had arrived on the block.
“I think there were some times when I threw it really good throughout my first two years here.” The quarterback told NJ.com reporters. “That was the frustrating part for me, is the ups and downs and not knowing why — and not really getting any information from anybody on how to fix that and how to address it.”
Having since been waived by Oakland, Hackenberg now finds himself in a unique situation. Signing with the Eagles means he will face the team who dealt him a cruel twist of fate in just three weeks time. A revenge game? Absolutely. But more to the point, every cloud has a silver lining.
Sure, Hackenberg struggled with accuracy during his time in the NFL, to the point he couldn’t earn a start in the dysfunctional Jets offense, but that’s not new. He suffered those same setbacks with Penn State, completing a mere 56% of his career passes as a Nittany Lion. But he now enters a quarterback room that may be among the best in the NFL, even without John DeFilippo.
Nate Sudfeld had a similar mechanical problem coming out of college. He tended to over extend his throwing motion on plays, leaning too far into the throw which means his chest would point to the floor at the time of release. The feet were often no perpendicular to the target and when you wrapped it all up, it just meant he couldn’t get as much air under the ball as he could’ve. After a short stint with the Redskins and a year with the Eagles, it’s safe to say that a lot of that has now been ironed out.
What about Carson Wentz? The Eagles starter did seek out additional QB coaching help during his second offseason with the team and his mechanics were always in discussion. In his rookie year, Wentz would often be flat-footed in the picket but after another offseason focusing heavily on that area, the jump he made was borderline ridiculous.
What makes this even better for Hackenberg is that offensive coordinator Mike Groh is very familiar with the skillset of the 23-year old.
“I recruited Christian when he was in high school and I’ve known his family for a long time.” Groh role reporters on Monday. “He’s had his struggles since he’s gotten into the NFL. We’re just looking forward to working with him.”
If there’s anyone who knows his strengths, weaknesses and struggles, it’s Groh. If there’s anyone who can help coach a player up and rebuild that confidence, it’s Groh. Just look at his impact on Nelson Agholor last season. Having a former quarterback in Doug Pederson and another in Press Taylor, who won back-to-back NJCAA national championships at Butler Community College, Hackenberg is entering a very structured quarterback room that’s focused on mechanical development.
Hacknberg wasn’t active during practice on Monday but once the formalities are out of the way and he begins learning a condensed playbook, the fun can really begin. After all, the playbook was marginalized for Nick Foles during the team’s incredible 2017 postseason.
August 30th, save the date. Christian Hackenberg has a revenge game against the team who failed to develop his potential or give him the opportunity to at least prove himself. Nobody is expecting the second coming of Joe Montana, but if he can perform well enough to impress the Eagles coaches, there’s every chance that he can re-ignite his NFL career. Philadelphia is the perfect place to sit under the shadow of two, maybe three quarterbacks and iron out those mechanical issues that have plagued his career. The question is, will he be able to place a dagger in the heart of the Jets to start that conversation?
Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports