EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The last time anybody saw Christian Hackenberg in a game was the preseason finale almost a year ago. It was a disaster. He completed just 11 of 31 passes for 54 yards and threw an interception, too.
It was a much, much different and better Hackenberg that the Jets got to see on Saturday night.
Their 22-year-old, maybe-quarterback of the future wasn't asked to do a whole lot by new Jets offensive coordinator John Morton, but what Hackenberg was asked to do, he did well. He completed 18 of 25 passes for 127 yards in the Jets' mostly forgettable, 7-3 preseason-opening win over the Tennessee Titans.
For the most part, Hackenberg threw all short passes. But he appeared to be really decisive in his reads - a huge difference from last summer - and on target on almost every throw. In fact, he completed his first five passes and 9 of his first 11 - impressive considering the two incompletions were near-perfect passes that were dropped.
He did try a throw down the field a couple of times with no success, but for the most part everything he attempted was short and on the mark. Now, with a running game that was basically nonexistent -- 56 total yards and 1.8 yards per carry, though they were notably without the injured Matt Forte and Bilal Powell -- the Hackenberg-led offense wasn't exactly effective. He didn't lead them on a single scoring drive and wasn't even really close. His day also ended on an unfortunate fumbled snap (that didn't appear to be his fault).
But this summer is about progress for Hackenberg and there's no doubt that he made a ton from last August and September. For a quarterback that many thought was a disaster of a second-round pick, who even drew criticism from his own (anonymous) coaches last year, this was absolutely an encouraging start.
"He's got some things to build off of," Jets coach Todd Bowles said. "He's got some positive we can build on and he's got some negatives we need to correct."
Right. It's a good place to start for the Jets' most important player this season. And that's a heck of a lot better than where he was even at the end of last year.
"I think every rookie coming into the NFL, your first experience, you don't really know what to expect," Hackenberg said. "It's a totally different game, a totally different feel. I think just being able to go through everything that happened last year and learn and see and watch and observe and grow, I think it just helped."
Other thoughts from the Jets' preseason opener …
- Josh McCown, the other quarterback of interest - and still the likely opening day starter, went 3 of 4 for 72 yards and a touchdown on his lone series. He displayed a very strong and accurate arm on a 53-yard strike to Robby Anderson, who went out of bounds at the 2. It's hard to make judgements overall off a sample that small, but McCown has a strong and sometimes-accurate arm.
- After an up-and-down training camp, Robby Anderson looked a bit more like a No. 1 receiver. He caught three passes for 71 yards and made a terrific catch and showed great speed on that 53-yarder. He still looks like he needs to get bigger, and to be a true No. 1 he'll need to be better at making tough catches in traffic. He also has to prove he can fight through tighter press coverage than he saw against the Titans. But he's got the speed to be a big-play guy.
- The Jets defense has enough playmakers on it to keep them in games this year. Their pass rush was strong when the first team was in. There was one early series where Sheldon Richardson and linebacker Freddie Bishop came in on a blitz and overwhelmed Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (and Richardson may have even gotten away with a late hit. Cornerback Buster Skrine also nearly came down with a tough interception deep in Titans territory. Overall, they got strong pressure from their linebackers, especially up the middle.
- It's hard to know what to make of John Morton's offensive scheme without knowing how much he held back, but other than McCown's 53-yard completion it was a slow-moving, dink-and-dunk offense. The West Coast offense has elements of that - quick, short passes and lots of crossing routes. It's also not the worst way to play for a team that doesn't have a lot of battle-tested playmakers. With their starting running backs back, maybe the Jets can even move the ball that way consistently (albeit slowly).
- Cornerback Daryl Roberts, who had a few good flashes last season, got absolutely roasted for a 67-yard touchdown pass from backup Titans quarterback Alex Tanney to rookie receiver Taywan Taylor. The touchdown actually got overturned upon review and turned into a 42-yard completion because somehow Roberts made inadvertent contact when Taylor hit the ground at the Jets 25 yard line. But it was a bad play, nonetheless.
- New Jets kicker Chandler Catanzaro was wide left on a 55-yard field goal attempt. He's been erratic in camp so that didn't help, though it's hardly fair to judge him on one long preseason kick. Ross Martin, who has a real chance to win the job, handled a few kickoffs but did not attempt a field goal.
- A couple of odd stats, courtesy of Randy Lange of the Jets: The Jets' touchdown drive on their first position was the first time they scored a touchdown on their first drive of the preseason since 2003. And their eight sacks was their most in a preseason game since 2009.
- S Doug Middleton injured his pectoral muscle in the fourth quarter. Bowles said he would have to go for some medical tests. Also, rookie LB Dylan Donahue sat out the game with a sore shoulder, Bowles said.