Christian Hackenberg believes that he has finally solved his biggest problem.
Less than nine months after the Jets pulled the plug on the former second-round quarterback without ever actually giving him a chance to play in real football games, he is hoping to get his career off the ground in the new Alliance of American Football.
Hackenberg is expected to start for the Memphis Express in the season opener on Sunday with an eye on ultimately getting another chance in the NFL. Thanks to help from Memphis offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach David Lee, the young quarterback believes that he has corrected mechanical flaws in his throwing motion once and for all.
“I don’t think I’ve ever thrown the football this good. Never,” Hackenberg told PennLive.com. “I wish I had this five years ago. But the good news is I’m 23, not sure that I could do it and I did it. Now it’s just about going out and playing.”
Lee, who spent two seasons as the Jets quarterbacks coach under Rex Ryan, started working with Hackenberg before they hooked up in the new league.
“Right now, I’m super pleased with how he looks,” Lee said. “I think he fixed but we’ll see when we get to games and see.”
Hackenberg will forever be linked with Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan, who took him with the 51st overall pick in the 2016 draft. It backfired after Hackenberg became only the third quarterback taken in the first two rounds since the 1970 merger not to take a single snap in his first two seasons. He was active for just five of 32 games.
Hackenberg was put on ice as a rookie with little guidance from his coaches. He didn’t believe that he got much direction in his second season, either, to fix mechanical issues. He appeared in only six preseason games with Gang Green before the Jets cut the cord by trading him to the Raiders last summer for a conditional seventh-round pick.
It was a de facto release. The Raiders held on to Hackenberg for three weeks before waiving him and recouping their draft pick. He disappointed for the Eagles in preseason before landing on the Bengals practice squad. He was cut in November.
Now, he’s hoping for an opportunity to show NFL teams that he deserves another chance to get back into the league. The most critical step was making the proper changes in his throwing motion.
“Christian had an elongated backward release and he flipped the ball out,” Lee said. “There’s nothing wrong with him mentally. Just a mechanical flaw. When he tried to get it back here he couldn’t get it in the release position and he would lose it. Even on short passes. It was more severe on short passes than deep passes. It can come and flip out as long as it comes up, but when it gets long and flips out it’s too long getting back into the throwing position where things can go wrong.”
Hackenberg beat out former NFL quarterback Zach Mettenberger for the starting job. Now, it’s up to him to prove that all the work he’s put in with Lee has truly made a difference.