Could Hackenberg be the answer at QB for O'Brien, Texans?
February 27, 2016 12:00 AM
Bob Levey/Associated Press
Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien is in need of a long-term starting quarterback, and Christian Hackenberg, who played under O'Brien shortly at Penn State, is a potential option.
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
INDIANAPOLIS — The Houston Texans have gone 9-7 in back-to-back seasons and won an AFC South Division title since head coach Bill O’Brien arrived from Penn State.
They have done that despite using nine quarterbacks, including seven different starters, in those two years. That is proof O’Brien knows something about getting the most out of quarterbacks.
That also was apparent at Penn State, when he took a freshman named Christian Hackenberg and steered him to the most productive season the quarterback enjoyed in his three years with the Nittany Lions — completing 59 percent of his passes for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns.
That relationship has fueled speculation the Texans, in desperate need of a permanent long-term starter, will draft Hackenberg at some point and reunite him with his former coach. O’Brien was asked about that — and drafting a quarterback in general with the 22nd overall pick — at the NFL combine.
“I know him. I’ve been around him a long time and some of these other guys I don’t know, so, naturally, I know him a little bit better,” O’Brien said of Hackenberg. “It doesn’t mean I evaluate him any differently. It just means that I’ve just been around him a little more.”
Hackenberg is not projected as a first-round pick but, despite back-to-back subpar seasons at Penn State, his stock at the combine likely will rise because of his size (6 feet 4, 223 pounds) and ability to make all the throws coaches like to see. Still, he probably won’t rise much higher than a second-round pick.
“I’m just starting in on these guys,” O’Brien said. “I think that Christian’s a very talented guy, but there’s a lot of talented quarterbacks in this league. To stand up here and answer whether a guy has starting ability, I mean it is very, very difficult to start at quarterback in this league. ... I think it’s more about evaluating the talent, looking at the skillset, thinking about what your team needs, what type of offense your team runs, who fits it the best and you kind of go from there.”
Tight end talk
What the Steelers do in free agency likely will determine if and when they draft a tight end.
Most analysts project Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry as a first-round pick, and he thinks he is worthy of such a selection.
“I believe the tight end is a big part of the NFL,” said Henry (6-6, 250 pounds). “I believe I bring something that’s different than a lot of guys would bring. I’m going to be able to play every down. That’s something I believe. I’m going to be able to stay on the field consistently. I’m not just a first-down guy. I’m not just a third-down guy. I can play all three downs. It’s a big part of the NFL. That’s why I believe I’m worthy.”
Henry caught 51 passes for 739 yards and three touchdowns in 2015 at Arkansas, but he also is considered a solid in-line blocker, something the Steelers desire. He did both in the Razorbacks pro-style offense.
Henry, though, likely will be gone by the time the Steelers entertain taking a tight end. A more plausible possibility is Nick Vannett of Ohio State, perhaps the best combo tight end in the draft. Vannett did not interview with the Steelers at the combine because he met with them at the Senior Bowl.
Vannett caught only 55 passes for 585 yards and six touchdowns in four years at Ohio State because he was used more as a blocker. But he was impressive at the Senior Bowl when he got to show off his pass-catching skills.
“I’m happy I did that because it made me into more of a complete tight end,” Vannett said about blocking. “I feel I’m the best combo tight end in the draft. I really worked on my blocking. I didn’t want the reason why we couldn’t run the ball to be because of me.”
Guard tough on himself
It is likely the Steelers likely will draft a guard somewhere around the middle rounds if Ramon Foster leaves in free agency.
One of the best prospects is Arizona State’s Christian Westerman (6-3, 298), who did the most reps among offensive linemen in the 225-pound bench press (34). That, though, was a disappointing number for Westerman, who said his personal-best for one-time bench press was 500 pounds.
“It didn’t go as well as I thought it was going to go,” he said. “I was shooting for about mid-40s. I just think I need to hydrate a little better. I had a little cramp.”
Westerman, who also can play center, might not be around by the middle rounds of the draft. He is projected as a second- or third-round pick.
Gerry Dulac: email@example.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.
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