Hackenberg confident in his supporting cast

No worries for Christian Hackenberg, the Big Ten freshman of the year last season.       GENE J. PUSKAR / AP
No worries for Christian Hackenberg, the Big Ten freshman of the year last season.       GENE J. PUSKAR / AP
Posted: August 06, 2014

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Whenever Penn State coach James Franklin has been asked recently about Christian Hackenberg, he consistently has mentioned finding the "pieces of the puzzle" - choosing from an inexperienced corps of offensive linemen and wide receivers - to place around the Nittany Lions quarterback.

Franklin won't say he is worried, but most of Nittany Nation is. The offensive line returns only one starter, and three of the early projected starting five have not played a single down there. Most of the wide receivers are young, talented, and raw.

For his part, though, Hackenberg sounded on Monday as if he doesn't have a worry in the world when it comes to these "pieces."

"I'm not concerned at all," Hackenberg said on media day at Beaver Stadium, also the first day of preseason practice. "I work with these guys every day all year and I couldn't be more confident, I couldn't be more proud to have these guys around me and call them my teammates. I can't really say much more about them."

Although he is starting just his second season at Penn State, Hackenberg is the unquestioned leader of the offense. The Big Ten Conference freshman of the year passed for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns last season behind a veteran offensive line and with an all-American wide receiver in Allen Robinson, who had 97 receptions.

Franklin said that he wants to see the running game have a huge impact so the offense doesn't become predictable, and that the Lions' huge stable of experienced tight ends will take some of the heat off the young wide receivers in terms of needed production.

"All these things factor into it," he said. "Obviously, I want [Hackenberg] to be more and more confident so he can make really good decisions in terms of protecting the football, get the ball out of his hands as quickly as he possibly can.

"What you like to see with a quarterback in this system is they get to a point where they feel the [opposing] defense can't be right. When your quarterback feels like he has all of those tools at his disposal, then the confidence skyrockets. That is unbelievably valuable. Our focus is on making sure that he's going to be able to do those things."

Hackenberg worked with the wide receivers throughout the summer and expressed confidence that they will be fine.

"We have a slew of guys that are young, not really a ton of experience," he said, "but I think that each guy's going to have the opportunity to step up and make plays. We're going to continue to put them in situations where they can make plays."

Hackenberg spent a good amount of his offseason time in the weight room, adding 15 pounds. He now carries 235 pounds on a 6-foot-4 frame.

"I didn't do it a lot in high school," he said. "I think that was one of those things that can help you develop a leadership role and also be able to prepare you to go out and play and take the pounding of a 12-game season in the Big Ten."

As for improving his game, he said he constantly is working on footwork, accuracy, and fine-tuning his release. He said the transition from Bill O'Brien's offense to Franklin's has been fairly easy.

"It's quarterback-friendly," he said. "As a whole team, I think we have a lot of guys that are very smart football players. So being able to translate that to this new system, it's been smooth and I don't think it's been as difficult as one would think."


jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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