Penn State Football

Poise in the pocket: Little things help Hackenberg see big picture

Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg warms up during spring practice on Wednesday, April 1, 2015.
Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg warms up during spring practice on Wednesday, April 1, 2015. CDT photo

Christian Hackenberg has always depended on his right arm to make plays.

This spring, he’s worked with quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne to focus on taking the smart play rather than going for the spectacular one. He’s looking to become a better game manager and to distribute the ball effectively.

The quarterback wants to get his playmakers the ball and let them make the plays.

Hackenberg said he’s more confident going into his second year in the offensive scheme under coach James Franklin. Hackenberg said the offense has been working to develop confidence this spring, something he hopes is on display during the Blue-White Game at 4 p.m. Saturday at Beaver Stadium.

While the game is merely a scrimmage, Hackenberg said, it also has value for the team.

“A lot of these guys have never really had reps in front of fans at this level,” Hackenberg said, “so I think it’s a great opportunity to go out, have fun, execute some plays and immerse yourself in the process of what a game-type situation or game-day feel is.

“And I think personally I enjoy it because it’s just sort of a culmination of a long spring and kind of get out there, run around have some fun with the guys.”

Execution on offense starts with Hackenberg.

It’s all a focus on his work with Rahne this spring, and Hackenberg said he’s continuing to build his relationship with the quarterback coach and offensive coordinator John Donovan.

It’s still growing on the field, where Hackenberg learns from them as he grows within the scheme. And it’s developing off the field, where he can talk to the coaches about football and life.

“I love their approach to the game and I love working with them,” Hackenberg said. “They’re guys that make me excited about stepping in that building every day because I know that there’s a focus and there’s a sincere and genuine care for us to be the best that we can be.”

Hackenberg was involved in multiple heated discussions with Donovan on the sidelines last season.

When asked about the perceived friction between Hackenberg and the coaches, the quarterback admitted it bothered him and hurt his pride.

“It’s their livelihood, it’s what they do,” Hackenberg said. “So for me, I’m going to buy in and ride the storm out with them as best I can because they’re guys that have the same goal as me, they want to win the game. They want to win as many games as they can and they want to put Penn State in the best situation to be successful as they can.”

The heated discussions were a product of frustration shared by the entire offense during a season in which the Nittany Lions ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring.

“I think now we’ve realized that as an offense we need to encourage each as an offense and as a team to be able to get better,” tackle Andrew Nelson said. “And I think that’s something that Hack himself has definitely taken to heart.

“Obviously you look back at last season, none of us were happy with how the offense played last season. We all wanted to be better.”

That’s meant taking a positive approach to each practice. Hackenberg said he hasn’t tried to change his leadership style, but he’s aimed to hold himself and his teammates accountable.

“For me,” Hackenberg said, “it’s just being as genuine as I can with everything and working as hard as I can.”

Hackenberg said he’s also trying to build off his efforts to stay “relatively healthy” last season when he was sacked 44 times. He mentioned massage therapy, stretching and chiropractor treatment as parts of his injury-prevention plan to ensure he’s in the best shape possible.

“Just making sure everything’s in line, everything’s clicking because ultimately the body is what’s paying for my education right now,” Hackenberg said. “So you got to keep that part of it up and keep that aspect up to being able to perform at the level that you want to perform at. It’s a major part of what we do as players.”