Nathaniel Hackett has worked with Blake Bortles during his spectacular 2015 season and during his less than stellar 2016 season. He gets another shot with the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback in 2017.
Amidst the interviews and rumors of Chip Kelly coming to the Jacksonville Jaguars to be the offensive coordinator sat Nathaniel Hackett. The former quarterbacks coach in 2015 and offensive coordinator for part of 2016, Hackett was the odd man out in a hiring situation that seemed to focus on external candidates.
Hackett, like newly-hired head coach Doug Marrone, is a bit of an uninspiring choice following a disastrous 3-13 record in the latest Jags season. It’s the kind of continuation that makes the Jaguars seem like a second-rate team that can’t learn from its past mistakes.
That perception is largely informed by the Gus Bradley era, an era of complete mismanagement and struggle for the franchise. With Bradley at the helm things seemed to go wrong consistently for the Jags, with different parts of the team collapsing in different years. As soon as Bradley turned around to fix one part of the team, the others fell into disarray.
Hackett was part of that disarray. He wasn’t the mastermind behind it all in any way and he was certainly better than Greg Olson (fired mid-season in 2016) but he also represents a continuation on offense that clearly wasn’t working. For Marrone and the new coaching staff, this is problematic.
The announcement that the team has hired Hackett is not particularly glowing. Jags senior writer John Oehser talks through his past history but doesn’t leave much enthusiasm punching through his words. The notable takeaways from the announcement are the improvements in offensive production since Hackett took over for Olson:
"The jaguars improved their rankings under Hackett this past season in several categories including: time of possession (30th to 13th), goal-to-go efficiency (15th to fourth) and red-zone efficiency (16th to fifth). The Jaguars rushing attack also improved under Hackett from 30th in yards (72.6) to fifth (124.8) in rushing yards per game, 26th (3.79) to 13th (4.35) in yards per rush and from 32nd (38) to first (112) in rushes of four-plus yards."
This, more than anything, appears to be the positive takeaway of the hire. Hackett’s past time serving under Marrone (with the Buffalo Bills) also is a key factor in consideration.
The main factor, however, should be quarterback Blake Bortles. Bortles struggled in 2016, routinely turning the ball over and killing momentum for the offense. By retaining Hackett, the Jags are making sure Bortles doesn’t have to move onto his fourth offensive coordinator in four seasons. Instead, it will be just three.
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Continuity can be important for young quarterbacks. It is difficult for a quarterback to be forced to learn multiple different systems in a row and perform competently in them and under different personalities. From Jedd Fisch to Olson to Hackett, Bortles has already been through the wringer. Just look at current, deceptively great, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith in the instability with the San Francisco 49ers compared to later stability in his career. It made a vast difference.
Gil Brandt, writing for NFL.com, also suggests that Hackett is someone who can fix Bortles, writing, “I feel his issues are fixable, especially with Nathaniel Hackett — whom I have a lot of respect for — working with him.” That’s an endorsement that the Jacksonville Jaguars faithful needs to hear in the capstone hire of the new coaching staff. Hackett may be a continuation of the past, but there is faith in his abilities elsewhere in the league as well as in Jacksonville.
Hackett will have his work cut out for him with Bortles. There is a lot of remedial work that needs to be done and plenty of progress to be made. Bortles has the raw talent that can turn into something special but he needs to be re-built well with solid fundamentals.
Hopefully Hackett can do that.