New York Jets: Christian Hackenberg's Development Still Hinges on a Shaky O-Line 1
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 27: Christian Hackenberg #5 of the New York Jets drops back to pass against the New York Giants during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium on August 27, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Giants defeated the Jets 21-20. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

For young Christian Hackenberg to even receive a fair shake of progression in 2017, the New York Jets O-line must come together.

This past Saturday night, the New York Jets held their annual Green & White Scrimmage at MetLife Stadium. It’s the event that gets the real season kicked off, for it represents the first taste of “real action” moving forward.

OK, so “real action” may be pushing it. It’s still training camp. It’s still a scrimmage. The point of it all is that this showcases the players in a real whistle-to-whistle football environment.

In 2017, a few highlights came to life.

Rookie Marcus Maye, who could be one-half of the best safety due on the NFL alongside Jamal Adams, stepped in front of Robby Anderson and returned a Josh McCown pass 60-yards to the house. It was the defensive highlight of the night.

Offensively, once again, Christian Hackenberg seems to be making tremendous strides.

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Finishing 3-for-5 for 45 yards in total, what Hack missed out in opportunity he made up for with poise. His most impressive moment came when he connected with rookie tight end Jordan Leggett in the red zone for a score. (Click here for the full highlight.)

One of the very special things about the game of football is how in-depth a solitary play can be diagnosed. In this specific case, it’s tougher. The camera is zoomed in so we don’t know the defensive scheme. We have no idea how many are rushing or what the coverage looks like.

But there’s still much to be learned.

First off, it looks like a standard four-man rush. The defense came with a straight rush and the second-year Penn State product not only identified this, but reacted in a veteran type of way.

Notice how he feels the pressure immediately, collapsing around him. This has him step up in the pocket for room while keeping his attention downfield.

This is an excellent sign. His poise on the play is tremendous. He doesn’t panic. He doesn’t fold. He doesn’t tuck it and run it (even though he had the chance).

Based on the near WR-CB movement and linebacker Corey Lemonier covering Leggett, it looks as though the defense was in man. Where exactly was the free safety or double 2-over look (if that was the case), I’m not sure. But Hack found Leggett on the seam/skinny post as he beat the linebacker.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – OCTOBER 23: Matt Forte #22 of the New York Jets celebrates his third quarter touchdown with teammate Brandon Shell #72 against the Baltimore Ravens at MetLife Stadium on October 23, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Now we get the point of the story. While it’s great that Hack felt his surroundings like a pro, the kid won’t be able to fully receive his fair shake of developing unless his offensive line pulls its weight.

Gone is Nick Mangold, one of the greatest Jets of all-time. Gone is D’Brickashaw Ferguson, as he retired two offseasons ago. What John Morton has is an extremely shaky group (until proven otherwise).

Kelvin Beachum is the high-priced left tackle brought in to anchor the line. While he doesn’t have the resume Ryan Clady had, he’s still in the prime of his career with upside that cannot be argued. Injuries and inconsistency has been his issue (as both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars passed on the kid at certain points in his career).

Brandon Shell mans the other edge. The second-year pro was OK when he was provided the chance to start a season ago, but wasn’t really put on an island. The organization was sure to provide plenty of help, chipping and max protecting down the stretch of the season.

The guards remain the strength of the line. In Brian Winters and James Carpenter, the two most unimportant positions along an NFL line remain the Jets strength.

Finally, we have the new center, Wesley Johnson. While he played much more than Mangold a season ago (thanks to injury), there is so much more for the 25-year-old former fifth-round pick to prove.

What’s frightening about this group is the insane lack of competition. Behind these five guys, there is virtually nothing.

Ben Ijalana has been a sixth O-lineman for quite some time in Florham Park now. He’s a solid backup on either side, but nothing to write home about. Craig Watts and Dakota Dozier fall in the same column.

Through Mike Maccagnan not addressing a major need along the offensive line in the draft, competition at this time of year remains scarce. All five guys are locked into their starting spot and if injury strikes, trouble will brew.

Fans remain divided about this group. Some believe the O-line play will continue to suffer, just like it has over the last few years. Some believe this group will actually surprise. Some believe help is needed but it’s not even close to a major need (considering the holes up and down the chart).

I believe a solid O-line is always priority No. 1, especially when a squad is looking to develop a young, unproven QB.

Look at New England. Sure, Tom Brady and his greatness cover up a ton of deficiencies in many areas on the football team. But don’t be fooled one bit. His offensive line, despite the names, is always one of the few greatest in the league. It’s a combination of smart football and great coaching from the great Dante Scarnecchia that get the job done year after year.

During the Jets O-line heyday, Bill Callahan had the privilege of coaching up the nastiest offensive line in the league. The likes of Mangold, Brick, Alan Faneca, Damien Woody and Brandon Moore not only covered up major holes on that side of the ball, but won games by themselves for Rex Ryan and company.

Look at the Dallas Cowboys. Not until Jerry Jones was convinced to shed the flash and draft the nasty did that organization turn itself around. Big names, big talent and big coaching along the O-line make all the difference on the offensive side of the ball.

After all, the O-line makes up almost half of the entire offense (five of 11 individuals).

It’s a lesson the uber-talented New York Giants will learn in 2017. It’s something Jerry Reese may kick himself for, yet again when Eli Manning is getting crushed on a weekly basis while trying to find the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall down the field.

Without an O-line, weapons matter very little.

You have every right to be impressed with the offensive play of the night at the New York Jets Green & White Scrimmage. What Christian Hackenberg displayed on that single play was a gift only NFL QBs can showcase.

Just please, be careful. No matter what Hack does for himself and for his weapons, the full playbook will not be available until Morton is fully confident that his O-line can pull its end of the bargain.

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