After being an inactive for the first 15 games of his NFL career, rookie QB Christian Hackenberg will back up Ryan Fitzpatrick Sunday when the Jets conclude their regular season against the Bills.
"He is truly one play away from being in that huddle. That's completely different than when you know you're going to be inactive," former Jets QB Chad Pennington told me on this week's installment of the EA Podcast. "Even though you are preparing, it's like a redshirt year. Well he's no longer being redshirted because he's going to dress and he could possibly be being playing in the game. Just his emotions, his mental makeup and his mental approach are going to be tweaked this week because he has the possibility of being in the huddle."
With the Jets down to two healthy quarterbacks, Hackenberg will get some first-team reps in addition to his normal weekly work with the scout team.
"He'll probably in total amount of reps get more reps than Ryan Fitzpatrick when you throw in the scout-team reps. If there is a 10-play period, I would say he'd get four of those and Ryan would get six," Pennington said. "He's going to be prepared. I think for the most part, you'll probably rely on the running game for him, the play-action quarterback movement game where the reads are simple and then you'll have a certain amount of drop-back passes. You also have the two-minute package. They'll be a decent amount. I think you'll probably have 70, 75-percent of what you normally do and he has to be ready and he has to be on point with those things."
Even before Todd Bowles told the media of his quarterback plans, Pennington voiced that he thought Fitzpatrick gives the Jets their best shot to win in Week 17.
"I don't think it makes much sense to start Christian Hackenberg. This is a humanistic decision that you have to make," he said. "You have a player that has been inactive all year, that has not even prepared to play in a game, hasn't even suited up and been one play away, hasn't even been in that situation. So to put Christian Hackenberg in as a starter — to me — does not make sense."
The Jets had originally intended to start Bryce Petty against the Bills, but the latter suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder against the Patriots and was placed on injured reserve on Monday. Petty appeared in six games this season while making the first four starts of his career, completing 56.4% of his passes with 3 TDs and & 7 INTS. He threw for 809 yards and was sacked 13 times.
"You certainly can't evaluate much of his performance," Pennington said. "I think for him it's certainly disappointing because you had this game as well as the final game to continue to improve and show that he was making improvement. That has all gone down the drain, so that's a tough situation for him. Luckily on the positive side, it's his left shoulder. Dealing with the right torn labrum or your throwing shoulder torn labrum is much different than dealing with your opposite shoulder. I can speak from experience on that."
Bowles said Petty has to work on his reads and controlling the game more. The second-year passer experienced plenty of ups and downs in his short stint as Jets' starter.
"You see some nice intangibles. You saw the ability to lead your team back, be down late in the fourth quarter and lead your team back to a comeback victory," Pennington said. "But then you also see inconsistency, inconsistency in accuracy, inconsistency in reads and just overall play. Some of that is to be expected from a young quarterback and unfortunately because of the in and out appearances by him where you didn't get to see four straight games of him taking every snap, then that creates even more indecision on your evaluation of what type of player he can be or what his performances were."