FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- When Christian Hackenberg receives a playcall from the sideline, it could sound something like this:
"Blast to Joker right 'X' motion 372 'R' Slant spacing."
It's a base pass play in Jon Gruden's version of the West Coast offense, known for its complicated verbiage. He taught the system years ago to New York Jets offensive coordinator John Morton, who introduced it to the team in April.
Hello, crash course.
Veteran quarterbacks say it takes years to master the West Coast offense. Some have complained, claiming it takes too long to receive the play and relay it to the huddle. The Jets are hoping Hackenberg -- in his fourth offensive system in the past five years -- can learn it well enough to play this season.
Mentally, it's an enormous challenge, particularly since Morton hasn't streamlined it. He's installing the system in its original form, which means a giant playbook and a lot of memorization.
"You have to keep getting reps at it, hearing it, saying and spitting it back out," Hackenberg said.
The well-traveled Josh McCown, 38, who has played in just about every system known to man, said the West Coast offense is "like learning a new language." He said the average playcall is 10 to 12 words, which means they're longer than some of Todd Bowles' news conference answers. Every word and every number has a specific meaning, covering the formation, motions/shifts and pass-protection schemes. Mess up one syllable, and you ruin the entire play.
The Jets' quarterbacks -- McCown, Hackenberg and Bryce Petty -- drill each other on the verbiage. Not only do they want to memorize the playcalls, but their goal is to repeat them with conviction.
"[You] want to rattle that out smoothly, where the guys in the huddle believe in what we’re talking about," McCown said.
League insiders think McCown has the edge in the Jets' quarterback competition, in large part, because of his background in this offense. He has played in variations of the West Coast offense, which is a new world for Hackenberg and Petty.
Former NFL quarterback Jim Miller has a unique perspective because he played under Gruden (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and former Jets coordinator Chan Gailey (Pittsburgh Steelers). Miller said there's little similarity between the two systems, one of the reasons why he favors McCown in the competition.
"I think it will be McCown, I really believe that," said Miller, who co-hosts a SiriusXM NFL radio show with Pat Kirwan. "He gives them their best chance to win. He knows that offense, inside and out. Let the young guys learn from him."
Miller, who visited the Jets this week on his training-camp tour, was kind enough to give a detailed breakdown of the playcall: Blast to Joker right "X" motion 372 "R" Slant spacing. If you like Xs and Os, you'll enjoy this.
Blast: The type of shift.
Joker right: The final formation after the shift. In this case, a running back shifts out of the backfield and splits out wide right.
X motion: The X receiver motions across the formation from weak to strong.
372: This is the protection. Gruden called it Jet 2 (right) or Jet 3 (left). Miller used a numerical code. It's 372 because the play requires a three-step drop by the quarterback and "72" is the protection, with the line sliding toward the weakside linebacker. The line is responsible for the four-man line, plus the Will linebacker -- a 5-on-5 situation.
R Slant: After shifting, the running back runs a slant route.
How the play unfolds: The remaining running back reads the middle linebacker and strongside linebacker. If they both rush, the quarterback is a blocker short and must throw quickly to his best matchup. The tight end runs a five-yard hook. The X receiver, after motioning across the formation, runs a flat route. The Z receiver hooks at five yards.
Mind you, this is only one play. There are hundreds in Morton's playbook, and each one has variations because of different formations. This is a small sample of what's spinning in Hackenberg's brain when he steps into the huddle, and he must convince 10 other players he knows what he's doing.
"You want to convey that, 'Hey, I'm in control of this ship and I understand what's going on,'" Miller said. "That's command, that's huddle presence, that's conviction. Make those players believe in you."