Despite his status as a second round draft pick, Christian Hackenberg washed out of the NFL in just over two seasons having never seen the field in a regular season game. The New York Jets pulled the plug after two seasons and Hackenberg spent time on the rosters of the Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles and Cincinnati Bengals but never cracked their 53-man active squads.
Now in the Alliance of American Football with the Memphis Express, Hackenberg and his quarterback coach David Lee believe they’ve corrected a massive fundamental flaw that could allow him the chance to revitalize his professional career.
“I don’t think I’ve ever thrown the football this good. Never,” Hackenberg said, via John Luciew of PennLive.com. “I wish I had this five years ago. But the good news is I’m 23 (years old), not sure that I could do it and I did it. Now it’s just about going out and playing.”
Lee, the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach of the Express, began working with Hackenberg before the two both ended up in Memphis. Lee looked at the lengthy wind-up Hackenberg had and the way he contorted the football and believed this was a serious issue he could help Hackenberg correct.
“Christian had an elongated backward release and he flipped the ball out,” Lee said. “And seriously about 30 percent of the time – there’s nothing wrong with him mentally, just a mechanical flaw – when he tried to get it back here he couldn’t get it in the release position and he would lose it. Even on short passes. It was more severe on short passes than deep passes. It can come and flip out as long as it comes up, but when it gets long and flips out it’s too long getting back into the throwing position where things can go wrong.”
Lee started trying to correct the issue by setting up a device behind Hackenberg as he would throw that would immediately let him know his wind-up was too long.
“We did some drills and I had a deal that I put right five inches behind his arm and the first one he did ‘bam’ he hit it and he said ‘crap!’ I said ‘yeah, it hurt didn’t it?’ He said yeah and I said ‘I don’t want it going back there, I want it going here (up),'” Lee said. “So 350 throws later, the next day we kept doing it because it takes about 8-10,000 throws before it becomes muscle memory.”
Both Hackenberg and Lee are happy with he’s accomplished up to this point. Now will it show up when it matters during games in the AAF.
“Right now I’m super pleased with how he looks. I think he fixed but we’ll see when we get to games and see,” Lee said.
Without NFL Europe, the UFL, the USFL and a diminished Arena Football League, there had been very few options for professional players to try to continue to develop their skills if they weren’t on an NFL roster or practice squad. Even then, full-padded practices are non-existent in the offseason, practice reps are at a premium and development of players that just need more time than their cohorts has become much more difficult.
Hackenberg will have a chance to test his changes and put his new motion on tape in games in the AAF. More players will have a chance to perform in the XFL as well when it begins play. Now a player such as Hackenberg that couldn’t make it in his first go in the NFL has the chance to keep playing and potentially get back in the future.
Hackenberg is expected to get the start in Memphis’ opener against Birmingham this Sunday.