FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Christian Hackenberg was last seen in a football game Aug. 31, the New York Jets' preseason finale. That night, he completed only 10 of 22 attempts for 105 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles' scrubs, cementing his status as the No. 3 quarterback.
Four months later, he's prepping for another finale on the 31st. This time, it's the final regular-season game and the opponent is the New England Patriots.
This isn't the junior varsity anymore.
Hackenberg could make his NFL debut Sunday in a relief role, and wouldn't that be fascinating? Because the Jets' practices are closed to the media, nobody other than teammates and coaches have seen the 22-year-old in action since the preseason. He's cloaked in mystery.
Inquiring minds want to know: Is it the same Hackenberg as the preseason or has he made improvements in his game?
"He's got an arm and he makes great throws that are eye-popping sometimes," tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins said Wednesday. "If he gets out there and gets an opportunity, I know he'll run with it. He'll do a good job. He's gotten reps throughout the weeks.
"He's going to do a good job if he gets out there on Sunday. He's got the arm, there's no question about it. He's got it all. ... I think he'll surprise a lot of people."
Coach Todd Bowles said the Jets would be "fooling" themselves if they expect Hackenberg to be Superman in his first outing ... if he plays, that is. Bowles said it's not a definite, and it'll depend on how the game goes.
Bowles believes it takes at least five or six games to determine whether a young quarterback is making progress. So, no, they don't expect Hackenberg to steal the show. They'd give him a straightforward game plan and hope he remembers how to protect himself against ferocious pass-rushers, which he didn't always do in the preseason.
Frankly, some of Hackenberg's teammates don't know what to make of him. They see a big-armed thrower who still needs a lot of polish. They also see a hard-working player who practices mainly with the scout team.
"He continues to prepare, he works hard in the weight room and he's done everything they've asked him to do," left tackle Kelvin Beachum said. "With anybody, when it's your time to shine, you have to find a way to leave a good impression."
If he's frustrated by nearly two years of inactivity, Hackenberg has done a nice job of bottling it up. He always says the right things, never complaining about his lack of opportunities. He sticks to the script, even if it makes him sound robotic. Pressed on the prospect of making his NFL debut, he finally conceded a sense of excitement.
"I think, naturally, as a player, yeah, you're excited," he said. "The big thing is to not get lost in that and continue to make sure you're hammering home the fine details every week."
The final week could be his week.