Christian Hackenberg made his first appearance on Monday since signing with the Eagles and served more as a spectator than participant in practice. The 6-4, 224-pound quarterback threw the ball around before and after practice at the NovaCare Complex’s indoor facility but watched team drills from afar while talking with the other quarterbacks.
Hackenberg has to catch up to the other quarterbacks and learn the system before he can fully participate in practice and play in a preseason game. But for now, he is thrilled to be on an NFL roster and especially to join the Super Bowl Champions.
“Yeah, I’m really excited,” Hackenberg said. “It’s impressive what they’ve done since they’ve been here and their tutelage is shown on the field. Carson (Wentz) has played really well, Nick (Foles) played incredibly, it goes down the line with that, so I’m really excited for this opportunity, I think these guys are awesome. It’s been a really receptive room, the coaching staff has been awesome, so I’m really excited.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Groh spoke with reporters after practice on Monday. He said bringing in Hackenberg was a personnel decision but he knows a lot about the quarterback from his time as the recruiting coordinator/wide receivers coach at Alabama.
“I recruited Christian when he was in high school,” Groh said. “I've known his family for a long time and obviously he's had his struggles since he's gotten into the NFL. We're just looking forward to working with him out here.”
The next challenge for Hackenberg will be getting up to speed with the Eagles’ playbook as Training Camp come to a close on Tuesday. He said he plans to spend plenty of time with the other four Eagles quarterbacks learning the offense. Groh said there is a plan in place.
“Just like any other player, we have to spend a lot of time once the meetings are over, 1-on-1 time, trying to catch him up,” Groh said. “You try to shrink the playbook for them, give them something more game-plan specific so they can focus on what they need to know for each game.
“We just have to get him out here and first of all he has to learn what to do and how we want it done,” he added. “At this point, he has to crawl before he can walk.”
Hackenberg was drafted in the second round (51st overall) of the 2016 draft by the New York Jets out of Penn State. He played in the preseason for the Jets in 2016 and 2017, but never saw time in a regular-season game.
After a trade to the Raiders in the spring of 2018, he was released and became a free agent. He is hoping to use this opportunity with the Eagles to get his NFL career back on track.
“I’m going to come in every day and learn as much as I can from these guys,” Hackenberg said. “I assume they signed me for a reason so I’m just going to come in and give it all that I have in terms of picking it up, trying to push myself, and learning as much as I can mentally and trying to take that on while also making sure I stay up on everything physically. So, it’s going to be tough. It’s a challenge, and I’m excited for it. It’s better than sitting on the couch.”
Sitting on the couch is exactly what Hackenberg has been doing in the last two months. He said he worked with personal trainer Jeff Christensen and did 86 two-a-days of workouts trying to perfect his arm motion and footwork. He said this summer was the first time since he could remember that he was not involved in a Training Camp in some form.
“Being able to finally get that call and come in and do things, it puts things in perspective,” Hackenberg said. “You take things for granted and you don’t miss it until it’s taken away from you and I understand it’s not like a year or anything like that, there’s been way crazier stories, but getting a taste of that, it’s not a good sandwich to bite into. So like I said, just really happy to be here, smile on my face and enjoying every minute of it.”
Hackenberg worked out for the New England Patriots and Houston Texans in that time. He worked out with the Eagles on Sunday and was “thrown” into a walk-through after signing his contract. He then had to drive to his home in New Jersey to retrieve a bag of clothes before coming back to the hotel in Philadelphia and preparing for Monday’s practice.
Finally, he can settle in and get to work with an offense that he believes gives him the tools to learn and succeed.
“I know what I’ve put in this offseason and things I’ve changed and I just haven’t had an opportunity to go out and show any of that yet,” Hackenberg said. “So I think the expectations and all, that really hasn’t crossed my mind. It’s been more of a focus on just the process and every day, whatever step that is, and however that’s going to come, just falling in love with that again because usually if you take care of that, the results end up being pretty good.”