Hackenberg absorbing new offense at Penn State

Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
Posted: April 05, 2014

Christian Hackenberg hit the ground running after he reported to Penn State last summer for his first season of college football, cramming as much of Bill O'Brien's complex offense into his head as he could before leading the Nittany Lions into their season opener on Labor Day weekend.

Now Hackenberg is learning all over again this spring, trying to grasp the nuances of the Lions' new offense under coach James Franklin.

However, the quarterback's task this time is easier because of the experience he gained last season when he threw for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns as a true freshman.

"I think I've just improved," Hackenberg said Thursday in a conference call. "The game's slowed down for me a lot, and that's helped. It's understanding coverages and picking up this new offense and how to really master it. I think my experience last year allowed me to make a relatively easy transition.

"I just have to continue to improve and stay on track. I'm not trying to look ahead and have ridiculous expectations, but I want to stay on track and do my job in the offense. I know if I do my job and everyone else does their job, then we're going to be pretty successful."

Hackenberg appreciates not having to learn the offense as quickly as he did last season. Taking time to understand certain aspects of the system is "going to be advantageous in terms of picking up the offense," he said.

A bigger and stronger Hackenberg will be under center for the Nittany Lions this season. He went through Penn State's offseason weight training program for the first time and put on 10 pounds to "about 234-235" on his 6-foot-4 frame, yet still ran the fastest 40-yard time of his career, 4.73 seconds.

Thanks to the program, he feels the football is coming out of his hand better and that more consistent footwork will lead to more accurate throws.

O'Brien, who accepted the head coaching job with the Houston Texans on Dec. 31, also was the Lions' offensive coordinator, meaning Hackenberg was virtually linked at the hip with him. While he doesn't work as closely with Franklin, he said the two have "a strong relationship" and he knows what the new coach expects of him.

"He expects me to come in every day and work my hardest," he said, "and lead both by example and vocally and sort of take a role as being an older guy when I really don't have a ton of experience. I've accepted that. I'm just coming in here trying to work as hard as I can and be the best teammate I can be."

Hackenberg said he's having fun learning "a little bit different offense" under coordinator John Donovan and quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne. He said the two "are really passionate about what they do."

He also said Franklin and his staff have brought high intensity and energy to workouts and practices since Day 1.

"It stays the same throughout the entire day," he said. "Every time we come over to the [Lasch] building it's always high intensity, about getting better as a team and individually and in the weight room and whatnot. So it's a consistent expectation level from the film room to practice."

He said the coaching staff sometimes adds a few twists to the normal practice regimen that make it fun.

"You really never know what to expect on a day-to-day basis," he said. "The quarterbacks might run over and do a competition for push-ups or something. There's always something around the corner."


jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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