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Penn State Football: 60 Passes Later, Hackenberg Impresses At Pro Day

by on March 17, 2016 3:30 PM

For the past two and a half months Christian Hackenberg had been preparing for this morning. Six days a week bunkered deep in the California sun, hiding away from the cameras and the questions. Just some footballs, some footwork and a coach.

So when it finally came to show what he had been up to, it didn't take long to be reminded why the Virginia native had once been considered the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. A little slimmer and a little stronger, Hackenberg slung the ball with an ease that even made more than a few scouts whistle as the ball sliced its way through the air.

When it was all said and done, Hackenberg never spoke to the media on Thursday afternoon at Penn State's Pro Day, but as he turned around and walked towards his family some 60 passes later, the smile across his face said all you needed to know about how the day went.

Talk to Hackenberg's mentor for the past two months, former NFL quarterback Jordan Palmer, and his words support the smile.

"I honestly think it was an A," Palmer said after the workout. "I'm not trying to cover anything up, I think it was great. I thought he spun the ball really, really which was something there were questions of coming off the tape. I thought he was really on balance and really smooth. He got hit a lot, so it's hard to be smooth, it's hard to be on balance. He threw the ball really well on the run and threw the deep ball really well. The accuracy, I think the general response were that people were really pleased with the accuracy and where he threw the ball. He did nine different play actions, which is about how many there are in an NFL system and the ones that he missed were a little here, a little there and I think some were catchable balls."

That was perhaps the most impressive aspect about Hackenberg's workout. Over 45 completions on 60 attempts and a handful of drops sprinkled in. There were long balls and short screens, simple passes and on the run bullets.

The throws that made fans groan as they skipped off the turf this past season were on point and accurate. Hackenberg wasn't perfect, but he showed improvement in the area he needed to most; his footwork and his mechanics. The question has never been "can Hackenberg" make every throw. It has simply been "will he get all the parts moving in the right direction?"

According to Palmer that shouldn't be a question anymore, and more importantly, it shouldn't necessarily have been a major red flag to begin with. 

"This has nothing to do with a coaching staff anywhere," Palmer said. "When you're a college quarterback you've got school, you've got practice, you've got weights, you've got study hall. You have all these things, so focusing on your mechanics becomes a very tiny little sliver of the pie of what your day is and Christian has been living 300 yards from my house in California for two and a half months and we're working six days a week together. So when mechanics become a giant piece of the pie that's how you're able to do them consistently. So it has nothing to do with, did he do it right before or wrong before or anything like that, he just didn't do it very much because no college quarterbacks have that much time to focus on mechanics specifically."

From here Palmer expects the film to spread across the league and in turn only improve Hackenberg's stock. Those around the former Nittany Lion aren't necessarily hoping for an instant starting job to being with either. Given the time to sit and watch, it's a matter of getting drafted, not getting into the league by a certain round. Their belief, once he's in, Hackenberg's smarts and abilities will do the rest.

So is Hackenberg a project? Absolutely, something that even he has admitted along the way. But as Palmer pointed out as he prepared to leave campus on Thursday afternoon: What NFL quarterback isn't a project?

"I was just talking to Jamies Winston's offensive coordinator about that and (Winston) was the first pick in the draft and in the Pro Bowl his rookie year, and he has a lot to work on," Palmer said. "It's not about Christian and any of these guys, it's about the gap between college and pro. My brother (Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer) was the No. 1 pick in the draft and was unbelievable and won the Heisman and did not play one snap his rookie year. They made him the third string quarterback so he could sit and watch."

"So times have changed, I don't what happened a couple of years ago when second round picks started, starting day one, but it cost me my job in Cincinnati when Andy Dalton came in," he added with a laugh. "In all seriousness I think all of these guys are project guys, I think Christian absolutely is a guy in my opinion who could play right away and so you hope it's in a good system where he's battling against a guy who he can learn from, who has had a good career."

Now everyone waits, but two and a half months, 52 passes, and 44 completions later, everyone in Hackenberg's circle is waiting for something good.

And it's not hard to see why.

Perhaps most fitting of all though, a Tampa Bay scout took a front row seat to watch Hackenberg throw, and when jokingly told that his team doesn't really need a quarterback right now, he said maybe the most telling statement of the day.

"You're always in the market for another," he said as he sat down with a laugh. "Especially in this league."

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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