Penn State Football

Christian Hackenberg’s QB coach: ‘He’s about to trend upward’ after Pro Day performance

Video: Penn State Football Pro Day

Former Penn State football players work out for NFL scouts March 17, 2016 in Holuba Hall on campus.
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Former Penn State football players work out for NFL scouts March 17, 2016 in Holuba Hall on campus.

Christian Hackenberg is all too aware just how important it was for him to perform well at Penn State’s Pro Day on Thursday morning.

So when he created the route chart of the things he’d be showing NFL scouts, coaches and personnel — at least one from 31 of the league’s 32 teams in attendance — he made sure to include things not seen on his game film from the past few years.

For example, it’s widely known how heavily Hackenberg was pressured (he took 103 sacks in three years). So he devised routes in which he was able to get through fourth and fifth progressions at times, and routes in which he was forced to flush out under pressure and throw on the run, sometimes across his body.

Out of 60 throws, he missed five. Three were receiver drops, one was an overthrow and the last was a wide miss on a cross-body slant. His feet were quick, light and sure, even when under pressure and throwing on the run — he has leaned out a bit since his time at Penn State — and his throws had a healthy zip, alongside plenty of lift and velocity on deeper attempts of up to 60 yards.

In other words, he did very, very well.

I can’t speak for him. I definitely think he’s peaking at the right time. I definitely think you’re going to start to hear a buzz nationally in the next two or three days, once all these pro days settle down, of Christian Hackenberg trending upward.

Jordan Palmer on his pupil, quarterback Christian Hackenberg

“I honestly thought (his performance) was an ‘A,’ ” said Jordan Palmer, former NFL quarterback, brother of Arizona Cardinals’ signal-caller Carson Palmer and Hackenberg’s personal quarterback coach.

“He spun the ball really well, which was something there were questions about.”

The 21-year-old slinger struggled a bit with his throws at the NFL Combine last month, missing four or five out of a couple dozen.

“The ones that he missed (today) were a little here, a little there,” Palmer said. “They were all catchable. I thought it was a great day.”

Palmer said Hackenberg’s consistency has been what the latter has most improved in the six or so weeks that they’ve trained in Dana Point, Calif. Hackenberg went through nine different play-actions throughout his workout to show this, working from short slants to mid-range button-hook routes on the run, to deep balls.

Each of the route combinations Hackenberg showed NFL personnel present were of his own creation. All those personnel in attendance got a “playsheet” of what he’d be running on a piece of paper, handed out by a grinning Angelo Mangiro (who served as Hackenberg’s snapper).

“I have a templated pro day that I put together, and then Christian takes it and makes it his own,” said Palmer. “He came back (to California) from the NFL Combine, we threw for five days and he took that template and modified it based on the things he wanted to show. Christian took that process and owns it ... Everything you saw today was Christian’s idea, and Christian’s concept. It was all him.”

Hackenberg did not speak to local media following his workouts, but Palmer, who has spent the past six weeks with Hackenberg living 300 yards from his own house in Dana Point, said the most important thing he learned about the young quarterback is how important his personality and demeanor could be to curious teams. That, Palmer said, is why he’s confident his trainee is the best quarterback in this year’s draft, at least from a mental standpoint.

“There’s a reason I train just one quarterback,” said Palmer. “I just had my first child. He’s 3 months old. And I could tell that (Christian) is just going to be a good dad, in like 10 years. But that kind of solidified that ... That’s really important. Because if I’m a general manager and I’m trusting you with my franchise, that’s a big, big task ... He’s a very trustworthy guy.”

Palmer said he’s heard about references to Hackenberg as a “project” quarterback — but, he said, the gap between college football and the NFL is too wide for even the best prospects to be “starter-ready” right out of college. Palmer cited firsthand accounts from the coaches of Jameis Winston, the first overall pick in last year’s draft and a Heisman-winning quarterback, and said that even Winston had (and still has) a long way to go.

“The problem is not Jameis or Christian or any of these guys,” he said. “It’s the gap from college to pro. And I think he can come in and be ready to play … Times have changed.”

Project or no, Palmer said that all he hopes for is a good and competitive system for Hackenberg and thinks many will be interested in the coming weeks.

“I can’t speak for him. I definitely think he’s peaking at the right time,” said Palmer. “I definitely think you’re going to start to hear a buzz nationally in the next two or three days, once all these pro days settle down, of Christian Hackenberg trending upward.”

Jourdan Rodrigue: 814-231-4629, @JourdanRodrigue

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