Jets quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates is pleased with the development he’s seen from Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg this season.
At the same time, he’s aware of the reality of the team’s situation. Todd Bowles and the rest of the Jets coaches must win games — or at bare minimum stay competitive — if they want to keep their jobs beyond this season. And as such, Bates, Bowles and offensive coordinator John Morton can’t afford to move on from 38-year-old Josh McCown.
They can’t shift their eyes to the franchise’s future when their futures at One Jets Drive are far from guaranteed.
“Of course we’ll have that conversation (on the future) at the end of the season,” Bates said Tuesday on a conference call. “But as an organization, this is professional football. This isn’t Triple-A. And we’re going to play the best players that give us the opportunity to win, in all positions, and that’s our philosophy. Josh is our starter, he gives us the opportunity to win on Sunday, and that’s what we’re focused on.”
Bates effectively mimicked the sentiment voiced by Bowles on Monday. In a conference call, the head coach said he’s “not coming up with a scenario right now” where Hackenberg or Petty would see game action this season.
Barring an injury to McCown, the two youngsters will be forced to grow on the practice field and in the meeting room.
Petty, 26, and Hackenberg, 22, switch off running the Jets’ scout team offense. The duo has a developed a system to keep things competitive.
“They’re not just throwing the ball up there,” Bates said. “If you throw a completion, you stay on. If you throw an incompletion, you rotate. They know the importance of the game. They know the importance of their position. And I think they’re both working their tail off to put themselves in the position (that) when their number is called, they’ll be ready.”
Still, there is growing concern surrounding Hackenberg, who the Jets spent a second round pick on in 2016. He’s been active for just one game this season — Week 1 at the Bills, when Petty was still recovering from a sprained knee. And this offseason, the Jets must make a decision on whether to trade up and take a quarterback in the draft. Before that, they have to come to a final conclusion on Hackenberg’s potential.
“He continues to develop as a pro quarterback, learning the system, playing fast, and being more accurate,” Bates said of the former Penn State signal-caller. “So all those things, he’s working on.”
The whole situation becomes even murkier when you consider the difficulty in evaluating young quarterbacks during the season when they’re not starting. Reps are decreased substantially, as compared to training camp. And the coaches, of course, are more focused on the game plan and weekly preparation than on how any one player is developing.
But part of the reason Bates is encouraged is because Petty and Hackenberg are learning from and observing McCown, “a true pro” who is imparting important wisdom on a daily basis.
“When you watch Josh practice, he goes out there and he’s on it, on the protections, 100 percent on the run game, 100 percent (on everything),” Bates said. “As a young quarterback, I think that’s huge to witness that, because you can’t have a day off, you can’t have a bad Wednesday or have the philosophy of, ‘Man, I’m going to really turn it loose of game day.’ …(That) has really helped those two guys, I think, understand the importance of it.”
McCown is enjoying a career season. In Sunday’s loss to the Bucs, which dropped the Jets to 4-6 entering their bye week, the journeyman threw his 14th touchdown pass and became the oldest player in NFL history to set a career high in touchdown passes. He’s also third in the league in completion percentage among qualified quarterbacks.
“This is what I expect out of Josh, and I think he expects the same thing,” Bates said. “We’ll continue to watch him grow.”