FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — One after the other, each of the New York Jets’ three quarterbacks took turns tossing passes to receivers on the first day of training camp.
First, Josh McCown. Then Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty.
All eyes were on the quarterbacks Saturday, but it’s a competition that lacks star power and, some might argue, overwhelming talent.
“They’ve been working hard,” coach Todd Bowles said. “They’ve all been learning and studying. We just have to see them play.”
Oh, and Bowles is in no hurry to come to any conclusions on his starter for this season.
“I don’t have a timetable on it,” he said. “As soon as it sorts itself out, I’ll give you a decision.”
Well, this might take a while.
McCown signed a $6 million, one-year deal with the Jets to serve as a potential stop-gap starter and mentor to the youngsters in the quarterback room. He has mostly been a backup during his NFL career, but the 38-year-old McCown has his sights set on being under center when the Jets’ regular season begins in Buffalo on Sept. 10.
“Absolutely, that’s the goal, is to be the guy,” McCown said. “But that’s also Christian’s goal and Bryce’s goal, so we’ll all do that together.”
McCown opened camp taking the initial first-team snaps, which was no surprise. He remains the favorite to be the starter, but the Jets will use the summer to evaluate whether either Hackenberg or Petty could potentially be the leader of the offense.
“It will work itself out,” Bowles said. “The reps will be different every day or every week. We have a plan when the preseason games start. Right now, we’re just getting our feet back wet from when we left in OTAs and minicamp. That situation will work itself out.”
Bowles added that regardless of the rotation, all three will get opportunities during camp.
“We have a lot of evaluating to do,” he said. “Once the preseason starts, when we get in pads and play some games, we’ll go from there.”
The defense was clearly ahead of the offense — or, at least the quarterbacks — on the first day of practice. None of the quarterbacks were particularly sharp, with both McCown and Petty throwing interceptions in team drills.
Hackenberg, a second-rounder last year out of Penn State, had some up-and-down moments. But he appeared to be working mostly smoothly in new offensive coordinator John Morton’s system and was the only one of the three quarterbacks without a turnover.
“I definitely feel more comfortable,” Hackenberg said. “I think that’s just a natural progression. I try not to compare years to years. I think it’s just part of growing up, man, and being in a situation where you just continue to grow.”
Hackenberg didn’t play in a regular-season game last year, despite struggles and injuries to the other QBs on the roster, including Petty, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith. It was the equivalent of a “redshirt” season, with Hackenberg viewed largely as a project who needed a year to get his mind and mechanics up to NFL speed.
This summer, however, Hackenberg will be given a legitimate shot to go from the sideline to the huddle when the games really count.
“My job is to come out here and play football, and I think that’s a privilege,” he said. “There’s so many people that do jobs that are sitting behind a desk and I come out and play a game for a living, and I think that’s pretty cool. There is pressure and there is a business side of it and you have to understand that, but I think ultimately at my age, I just want to come out here and have fun and continue to get better and play with a good group of guys, and that’s kind of my mindset on it.
“As long as I continue to get better and push myself and work with my coaches and my teammates, I’m confident in what I can do and we’ll see what happens.”
Petty was a fourth-rounder out of Baylor in 2015 and played in six games, including four starts. He was inconsistent in his limited opportunities, throwing three TD passes and seven interceptions while also dealing with a shoulder injury that ended his season before the season finale.
While he’s generally viewed as the potential odd-man out in the competition, Petty believes he is going to be given a shot to be the starter.
“Yeah it’s great, a lot more confident with things and picking up stuff, where the first year and second year I would have never saw or wouldn’t have picked up on,” he said. “So, you know I’m excited where this offense is at. I’m excited with what we are doing. Our work ethic is tremendous right now, guys are hungry, which is where we want to be.
“We are pointing in the right direction.”