Penn State Football: 3 Things Christian Hackenberg Must Do to Become Elite

Troy Weller@@troywellerContributor IIIApril 23, 2014

Penn State Football: 3 Things Christian Hackenberg Must Do to Become Elite

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    Even after a superb freshman campaign, Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg still has some strides to make. He's one of college football's brightest young stars who has the weight of an entire fanbase resting on his shoulders. 

    Hackenberg will enter 2014 a bit bigger, faster and stronger than he was as a freshman. The promising physical tools will still be there as well.

    When James Franklin took the head coaching job back in January, he spoke very highly of his new quarterback. With Franklin mentoring the young star, Year 2 is the time for Hackenberg to distinguish himself as one of the best in the country.

    Here are three things he must do in order to become elite. 

3. Take Care of the Ball...and Himself

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    Hackenberg only threw 10 interceptions last season, but he played behind a better offensive line than what is expected for 2014.

    There are going to be plenty of times throughout the year when the opposition's pass rush will get to Hackenberg quickly. He needs to make smart choices in these situations rather than trying to force a pass into tight coverage. 

    Similarly, Hackenberg needs to be smart about taking a sack and not risk being the victim of a hard hit. The Nittany Lions' quarterback depth behind him is bleak. Unlike last year, Penn State's backup won't have much experience, so it needs Hackenberg to be as healthy as possible all year. 

    In both scenarios, the sophomore gunslinger needs to make smart decisions and realize the safest course of action is probably the best in the long run. 

2. Become a More Vocal Leader

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    It's no big secret the quarterback is the most integral player in football. It's very important to have one who is a vocal presence on the field because of this. 

    Hackenberg is still young, and it's understandable to think he may have shied away from this role last year. That's alright, especially for a kid who was just months removed from his high school prom. 

    With a full year under his belt, it's now time for the sophomore to step into the role of being Penn State's prominent vocal leader on offense. Luckily for Hackenberg, Franklin brings a unique energy to the field that could help foster that leader's mentality. 

    Undertaking this role won't make Hackenberg throw a tighter spiral or hit more receivers in stride. What it will do is escalate the maturation process for a player who is just steps away from being one of the best at his position in college football. 

1. Master the Playbook

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    This may seem obvious, but it's not when you consider Hackenberg now has to learn his second offense in as many seasons. 

    As a freshman, he had issues with both accuracy and decision-making early on. Both were likely the product of having to learn a new offense. A handful of other freshman quarterbacks had to do it as well, but none have to do it again in 2014. 

    Mastering Franklin's playbook before the onset of the season will help Hackenberg eliminate the chances of these issues reoccurring. That's not a knock on him, as any sort of change involves a learning process. It will also allow him to smoothly make adjustments at the line of scrimmage. 

    Fortunately, Hackenberg sees a lot of similarities in both offenses. He has all the physical tools to be elite, so a full grasp of Franklin's playbook will give him the ability to start making an even bigger name for himself.