In the eyes of quarterback specialist George Whitfield, there are two types of demeanor for football players — thermostat and thermometer.
A thermostat demeanor is one in which the player sets his temperature gauge, and that’s it. There’s an extremely small margin of change emotionally, whether it’s going up or down half of a degree, as the player remains levelheaded.
On the other hand, some players allow their emotions to go as the game goes, going hot or cold rather quickly. That, according to Whitfield, is a thermometer attitude.
Whitfield, who operates his own quarterback academy and has worked with stars such as Johnny Manziel, Cam Newton, Braxton Miller and Donovan McNabb, also worked with former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer at the Elite 11 camp this past summer.
That’s where he noticed Christian Hackenberg and, more importantly, when he was sold on the then-future Nittany Lion and his thermostat demeanor. After Hackenberg dazzled at the Elite 11 camp, the Virginia native flew out to Los Angeles to work more with Whitfield and Dilfer.
While Whitfield was impressed with the young quarterback over the summer, the guru recently praised Hackenberg even more so for his performances and the responsibility he’s undertaken midway through his first season at Penn State.
“I’ve been impressed with his ability to deal with the chaos,” Whitfield said in a phone interview on Friday. “We talk a lot about ‘pocket tolerance.’ He’s taking some shocks…He’s been hit in the mouth, and then comes back and makes a big third down strike. All of that goes into your competitiveness. Are your gloves always up?”
At the season’s halfway point, Hackenberg, who has totaled 1,672 yards and 11 touchdowns so far, has had his ups and downs. Whitfield pointed out of the highs — the freshman’s ability to engineer last Saturday’s final drive of regulation against Michigan that ended in a game-tying quarterback keeper.
The quarterback guru said he didn’t feel like Hackenberg was on a roller coaster — a testament to his poise and decisiveness in the pocket.
Whitfield later said Hackenberg isn’t just a complementary piece in the Lions’ offense. Instead, Hackenberg is “dealing” thus far and the team is riding his coattails, according to Whitfield.
“We’ve talked. I know how much responsibility he has at the line of scrimmage in terms of protections and formation schemes,” Whitfield said. “He’s not just out there snapping the ball and going to ‘A.’ It’s not too much different from what an NFL quarterback is being asked to do on Sundays.”
In terms of quarterbacks currently playing on the biggest stage, Whitfield brought up Andrew Luck, a former No. 1 overall pick who is leading the Indianapolis Colts into Super Bowl contention.
Whitfield isn’t saying Hackenberg is on the same level as Luck, but said, of the older players he has worked with, the two have similar tools in terms of measurables and demeanor.
That’s high praise for a quarterback who is younger than some high school quarterbacks, as Whitfield noted.
With that youth comes inexperience, and Hackenberg’s rawness has shown on several occasions this season.
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien has said several times that everything Hackenberg sees, he does so for the first time and it will only help him in the long run. Whitfield firmly agrees.
The well-known quarterback technician said his former student is filing away the scenarios he’s faced already, and as he gets older, he’ll draw on those past experiences to continue certain progressions and avoid other digressions.
If he’s able to do that, Whitfield believes Hackenberg can become a dominant force.
“He’s seen so much so young. He’s seen the wicked slider. He’s seen the curveball that drops off the table,” Whitfield said. “If he stays consistent and learns from what he’s seeing, he’s going to be a juggernaut.”
John McGonigal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (814) 865-1828. Follow him on Twitter at @jmcgonigal9.