Christian Hackenberg isn’t sure what offense he’ll be tasked with learning next. He’s not sure who will emerge and take the place of his top target who decided to make the jump to the NFL.
The Penn State quarterback is sure of one thing, however — he was never going anywhere.
Even though the coach who recruited him has moved on, Hackenberg said he never thought of transferring from Penn State despite Bill O’Brien’s exit two weeks ago and during the coaching search that followed. Instead, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year is excited to begin his first full offseason program with a new staff and James Franklin at the helm.
“I think he’s a pretty personable guy. He’s up front, he’s honest,” Hackenberg said. “He brings a lot of intensity to the room. He’s very fiery. I think he’s a guy that really loves the game of football, really loves coaching it and I can’t wait to get on the field with him.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Hackenberg was the only Penn State player to sit down with Franklin one-on-one.
Inside the team’s weight room on Wednesday afternoon, Hackenberg shot down speculation that his future plans were up in the air pending a meeting with Franklin.
“I really wasn’t going in there looking to hear anything in particular,” Hackenberg said. “He was upfront, he was honest with me, plans on what he wanted to do. He didn’t really have to sell me on anything. I’m still here. This is where I want to play ball. So it was a great meeting. I just got to know him on a personal level.”
Hackenberg had contact with Franklin before as the former Vanderbilt coach recruited Hackenberg during his junior year at Fork Union Military Academy.
But even then, Hackenberg said, their contact was limited to a “phone call” or two. Instead, Hackenberg dealt more with Vanderbilt quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne, who is expected to be announced as Penn State’s quarterbacks coach in the coming days.
Rahne changed his Twitter profile to reflect his new job on Franklin’s Penn State staff on Wednesday.
Along with Rahne, Franklin — who played quarterback at East Stroudsburg — tutored former Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman and helped the former Wildcat become an NFL starter.
Former Vanderbilt assistants Brent Pry (linebackers), Bob Shoop (defensive coordinator), Josh Gattis (receivers) and Sean Spencer (defensive line) are expected to join Franklin’s staff and all are listed in the Penn State directory. Penn State has not announced any hires.
“They’ve been there, done that. They’ve seen everything that you’ve done,” Hackenberg said. “They’ve been in almost every situation that you’ve been through so you really get to appreciate that and I think they appreciate what you’re doing a little bit more. I’m excited to be able to work with him and his expertise and just having him to be able to fall back on in terms of actually being able to play the position that he understands.”
Franklin said at his introductory press conference that he plans to implement a pro-style offense. Hackenberg said he has not yet seen a playbook, however and isn’t sure of specifics at this point.
Hackenberg, who will turn 19 in February, was able to absorb a heavy dose of O’Brien’s pro-style attack and employ it effectively as the 2013 season wore on. Hackenberg completed 231 of 392 passes for 2,955 yards for 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
“I’m going to approach it the same exact way. I’m excited about it,” Hackenberg said. “I know he’s going to work to the strength of this team and we’re going to go from there. I’m excited. I can’t wait to get (the playbook) in my hands.”
While the team is without a playbook for now, Hackenberg will also be without his top target. Allen Robinson announced earlier this month he will forgo his final season at Penn State and enter May’s NFL Draft.
Defensive back Adrian Amos said Robinson is currently working out in preparation for the Draft. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. currently has Robinson pegged as the 32nd overall pick.
Hackenberg credited Robinson with helping him get assimilated to the college game as the two began working out together as soon as Hackenberg arrived on campus last summer.
Robinson’s absence — he caught a school record 97 passes for 1,432 yards — leaves the team with a hole on offense. Among returning players, tight ends Jesse James (25) and Adam Breneman (15) are first and fourth on the team respectively in catches while receiver Geno Lewis (18) is second.
“We still have to go out and perform in spring practice, perform in training camp,” Breneman said. “But it’s exciting to know the opportunity is going to be there to get the ball a little bit more. If everything goes as planned hopefully the tight end group will have a big 2014 season.”
Lewis caught three touchdowns, tied for second among receivers. Lewis said he’s tried to model himself after Robinson. Breneman said he’d spend time after practices last season watching film of Robinson in order to improve his receiving skills.
“The seniors and the guys that left early are some really good guys and I’ll miss them dearly,” Lewis said. “But it also is a new opportunity for myself to step up and be a leader on the team. I’m really excited for that.”