Hackenberg comfortable with offense

It’s probably easy to forget that this is Christian Hackenberg’s first time going through spring practice, given that he already has accomplished so much as a college quarterback.

He learned Bill O’Brien’s complex offensive system in just a few months after arriving on campus last June, so having nine months to learn James Franklin’s system should be a piece of cake.

“I really wouldn’t say there’s like a huge change,” Hackenberg said about the offense he will lead this year. “Every offense is going to vary a little bit, but the pace particulars are very similar.”

Hackenberg is still the same player, just bigger, faster and stronger after a full season and spring under his belt.

Consider him Hackenberg 2.0.

He’s gained about 10 pounds, from his playing weight last season of 225 up to 234-235.

He recently ran the fastest 40-yard dash time of his career, 4.73 seconds.

As for his throwing, he said, “I feel like the ball is coming out a little better.”

“I think I’ve just improved,” he said when asked how things have changed for him since last summer. “The game’s slowed down for me a lot; that’s helped. And then of course understanding coverages and picking up this new offense and understanding what means what and how to really master it.”

Hackenberg, last season’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year, has so much potential that it’s easy to heap praise on him. That’s even what Franklin has done after going through a few weeks of spring practice.

“I’ve been very impressed with Hackenberg,” Franklin said. “Everybody told me ahead of time, but until you see it live, I’ve been very, very impressed with him.”

The physical skills obviously are all there, but one thing that helps make Hackenberg so good is his calm demeanor and humble approach to the game.

“To be completely honest with you, I really didn’t have a lot of expectations [for last year],” he said. “I just really wanted to come in here and work as hard as I could and let everything play out. How it played out is great, but this is a new year, it’s a new team and I’m excited for what this team has in store for us this season.”

That’s where things get a little tricky, however.

Hackenberg enjoyed a superb 2013 season, but he also had key pieces in place around him. Gone now, though, are star receiver Allen Robinson and four starting offensive linemen (including injured guard Miles Dieffenbach).

There are big concerns about the O-line, so there’s no telling how much time Hackenberg will have to throw the ball. Plus the receivers are largely inexperienced – the wideouts, not the tight ends – and for now at least there doesn’t appear to be anyone with Robinson’s overall abilities. Redshirt sophomore Geno Lewis would be the closest.

“We have a young receiving corps, but they’ve all developed quickly,” Hackenberg said. “Throughout the spring they’ve really picked it up. I’m excited.

“It’s a new challenge, but I think these guys are ready for it. And it’s going to give us an opportunity to really spread the ball around this year and let a lot of different guys get their hands on the ball and make plays.”

While many people are placing huge expectations on Hackenberg as a sophomore, the quarterback has tried to keep things in perspective. That’s probably smart given the uncertainty in key areas around him.

“I’m not trying to look ahead and make ridiculous expectations,” he said. “I just want to keep staying on track and do my job in the offense. If I do my job and everyone else takes care of their job, then we’re going to be a pretty successful unit.”