Why isn't Christian Hackenberg playing? 'This isn't Triple-A'

Christian Hackenberg has yet to take a snap during a regular-season game since he was drafted in the second round of the 2016 draft. Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports

Christian Hackenberg is 26 games into his professional career and he has yet to step foot on the field, creating an air of mystery around the former second-round pick. Curious observers want to see him play, especially now that the New York Jets are playoff long shots, but the organization has made its position clear.

They won't sacrifice wins to develop young players.

"We're focused more on the Carolina Panthers than getting into that debate," quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates said Tuesday, commenting on why Hackenberg is a nonfactor. "Of course, we'll have that conversation at the end of the season. As an organization, this is professional football. This isn't Triple-A.

"We're going to play the best players that give us the opportunity to win at all positions. That's our philosophy and Josh [McCown] is our starter. He gives us the opportunity to win on Sunday and that's what we're focused on. We're focused on a very good Carolina Panthers team. ... At the end of the year, we'll have more conversations about the future."

Basically, Bates reiterated what coach Todd Bowles said on Monday. Bowles said he can't envision a scenario where he'd replace McCown with Hackenberg or Bryce Petty, barring injury.

Of the three quarterbacks, Hackenberg got the most game reps in the preseason and it didn't go well, resulting in his third-string status. Once the season begins, it's hard to develop backups because their practice reps are few and far between. Hackenberg and Petty split the scout-team reps. If one throws an incomplete pass, he yields to the other. Bates developed that system to make it competitive.

With six games to play, there's a real possibility that Hackenberg may not play at all -- again. If he and Petty get a chance, they will "go in and get an opportunity to showcase what they've been working on," Bates said.

Hardly a ringing endorsement.

Bates, who speaks to the media only three times a year (the league's minimum requirement for position coaches), praised Hackenberg's work ethic. Petty, too. Asked where Hackenberg can improve, he said, "He continues to develop as a pro quarterback, learning the system and playing fast and being more accurate."

The gap between McCown and the two backups is about as wide as the Hudson River. McCown is "playing at a high level and he's continuing to get better," Bates said. He believes McCown's professional approach is having a big impact on the two young passers.

"When you watch Josh practice ... the ball never hits the ground," Bates said. "As coaches, as the team, as the organization, you leave that practice field and you're like, 'Man, he's on it, we're ready to go to the next day, to the next day, to game day.' As a young quarterback, that's huge to witness because you can't have an off day."