It seems at times like the only thing people want to talk about when it comes to Christian Hackenberg is his NFL future.
Hackenberg thinks that, anyway.
“I respect that all of you have a job to do,” Hackenberg told reporters earlier this month during the team’s media day, “but I also have a job to do and it is to lead this Penn State football team. That being said, I would ask for you to respect the job I have to do and please refrain from asking me about questions regarding my future beyond the 2015 season. I am strictly focused on making this Penn State football team the best that it can be. … I am looking forward to a great year.”
With all the talk about Hackenberg’s NFL Draft stock and his standing as the type of quarterback pro scouts drool over, it’s hard to remember that he’s still playing quarterback at Penn State.
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After an impressive freshman season in 2013, last year was a struggle at times for Hackenberg. Some of his numbers still remained strong. His 2,977 passing yards were the second most in the Big Ten. Some didn’t. He led Big Ten quarterbacks with 15 interceptions, and he only had 12 touchdown passes. He had phenomenal games, like the 454-yard day against Central Florida and the 371-yards, four-touchdown performance in the bowl win over Boston College. And he had miserable games, like the combined 24-for-55, 280 yards, zero touchdowns and four interceptions in back-to-back games against Indiana and Temple.
That up-and-down style defined Hackenberg’s second season of college football and made him look like anything but a future No. 1 pick. But he’s taking them as learning experiences.
“At the end of the day, you learn to love those experiences — the goods, the bads — and you get better from it, or you build off of it,” Hackenberg said. “Last season as a whole, I don't really try to segment it. I just take everything I can from it and what I can learn from it and help this football team win as many games as it can.
“That there were a lot of ups and downs, you were going to face adversity at times, but you have to continue to make sure you play through it and stay true to who you are.”
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Hackenberg’s rough 2014 wasn’t all his fault, of course. Penn State’s offensive line was unsuccessful, to say the least, at stopping rushing defenders and creating holes for the Nittany Lions practically non-existent running game. The rushing attack barely averaged 100 yards a game. Hackenberg was constantly under pressure, sacked 44 times on the season.
Hackenberg didn’t blame his offensive line, instead talking about the things he needed to do to make their jobs easier, and maybe that was also at least part of last year’s issues. But the offensive line should be better in 2015. In addition to returning four more experienced starters, Penn State welcomed in a pair of transfers: junior-college transfer Paris Palmer and graduate transfer Kevin Reihner, who was at Stanford last season. That added experience ought to help Hackenberg out.
But in the end, the focus will be on Hackenberg, and regardless of how his offensive line and wideouts and running backs play, he’ll be the one whose numbers are analyzed to death. Given the way NFL Draft analysts typically think, the actual amount of success Hackenberg has in 2015 might not mean as much as his “projectability.”
Thankfully, Hackenberg is focused on Penn State. It would make sense that with improvements around him, his 2015 season should more closely resemble 2013 than 2014. A terrific season might mean Hackenberg will be off to the NFL before his eligibility is exhausted. But that would also mean a pretty good year for Penn State.