FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Picking a starting quarterback is no snap decision for Todd Bowles.
The New York Jets coach has a journeyman veteran in Josh McCown and two inexperienced youngsters in Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg from which to choose.
And with the team’s three-day minicamp completed, there’s still no clear-cut answer to the biggest question surrounding the franchise.
“I don’t look at anybody as the front-runner,” Bowles said Thursday when asked if McCown is ahead of the others in the competition. “I’ll just wait until training camp comes and we’ll sort it out then.”
The 37-year-old McCown is entering his 15th season in the NFL and is on his 10th team in the league. He has been a starter in some places, a backup in others – and even both at times.
When he signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the Jets in March, it was largely assumed he would be the likely starter at Buffalo on Sept. 10 in the season opener. That still might be the case, of course, but Bowles isn’t making any declarations at this point in the offseason.
“It’s a competition,” he insisted.
That means McCown, Petty and Hackenberg are all still in the running to be under center in Week 1. Bowles said the snaps were nearly equally distributed throughout the spring as the three quarterbacks took turns running new offensive coordinator John Morton’s West Coast-style offense and spent long hours with QBs coach Jeremy Bates.
“All three of us have done a really good job of owning it,” Petty said, “and Coach Bates has done a heck of a job preparing us.”
With the Jets revamping their roster by cutting nearly a dozen veterans in what has become a rebuilding season, many fans and media question why New York would even consider having McCown be a viable candidate for the job. Bowles compared the situation to kindergarten earlier in the week, saying that even in that situation, “you need a teacher.”
That is precisely what has kept McCown in the league. He is competitive and wants to be the starter, but also fully embraces the mentor role.
“He’s been in this system before, or something like it, so he’s seen more than everybody else,” Bowles said. “It’s just getting the timing down with the receivers and he’s done a good job of that.”
Petty, who started four games last year, is entering his third season and appears fully healthy after having surgery on his left (non-throwing) shoulder.
Meanwhile, Hackenberg, a second-round draft pick last year, has never played in a regular-season game.
“Hack got to play and learn a lot more,” Bowles said. “From a confidence standpoint, it’s picked up quite a bit. He got some timing down as well and he’s got a good feel for the offense. I expect that when we come back for training camp that he’ll just let loose and throw the ball without thinking.”
At Penn State, Hackenberg had a fabulous freshman season, but struggled after Bill O’Brien left to coach the Houston Texans. The quarterback was considered a bit of a reach in the second round, a project who couldn’t get on the field even with the Jets unable to get any consistency out of Petty, Ryan Fitzpatrick or Geno Smith.
Hackenberg made noticeable progress during minicamp, showing signs of being decisive and making some tough throws, such as his toss Thursday that split three defenders for a practice TD to tight end Jason Vander Laan. That came right after he was picked off by Darryl Roberts.
Hackenberg has faced perhaps the most scrutiny of any of the quarterbacks because of his lofty draft position and the uncertainty over whether he can be the future of the franchise – or if the Jets will be in the market next spring with a high draft pick.
“I don’t pay attention to it ,” Hackenberg said. “You guys have a job to do and I understand that and I also have a job to do. Ultimately, I have to continue to trust in myself, trust in the situation I’m in and continue to get better and continue to grow. That’s my goal and that’s all I try to do. I’m a low-key guy.”
He also refuses to allow negative headlines about his abilities affect him, on or off the field.
“Ultimately, in my opinion, the only people whose opinions I really care about are the people I’m involved with every day and know exactly what’s going on in this building as an offense and as a team,” Hackenberg said.
“My quarterbacks coach, specifically. If those guys say something to me, I’m going to take that to heart because they know exactly what’s going on, every detail of it. That’s how I look at it.”
For now, the competition takes a six-week break before it resumes in earnest in the heat of training camp.
“I’m really proud of how both (Hackenberg) and Bryce have come in and worked,” McCown said, “and it’s been fun competing with those guys.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.