Bucs OT Donovan Smith Discredits Hackenberg Criticism
Updated Dec. 26, 2015
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.
Over the past two years, two of the most debated and highly publicized young quarterbacks have been Jameis Winston and Christian Hackenberg. Winston won the Heisman Trophy and a National Championship at Florida State while also dealing with some off-the-field scandals before becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. At one time, Hackenberg was perceived to be an elite quarterback prospect like Winston, but two rough seasons have Hackenberg projected as a second-day prospect if he declares for the 2016 NFL Draft. Like Winston, there have also been some questions and criticism regarding Hackenberg's character.
One player who can shed insight into both is Winston's current left tackle Donovan Smith. Smith was Hackenberg's blind-side protector in 2014 and 2013. Smith could respond to some media reports that Hackenberg isn't a good teammate and is disliked in the Nittany Lions locker room. We caught with Smith at One Buc Place, and he didn't buy that criticism of his former quarterback.
"That's a lot of he-said, she-said kind of stuff," said Smith. "[Hackenberg] was exactly how you would want a quarterback. He led when he needed to. He picked guys up and stuff like that."
There also has been criticism about Hackenberg's body language that he pouts and didn't have poise on the sideline or in the huddle. We asked Smith if Hackenberg showed composure while going through a rough 2014 season that saw Hackenberg take a pounding.
"Yeah definitely," said Smith. "There was no [finger-pointing from Hackenberg]. It was good."
Between Smith's two seasons protection Hackenberg's blind side, Penn State went from Bill O'Brien to James Franklin as their head coach with each coach running a different offensive scheme. O'Brien ran a pro-style offense while Franklin has run a college read-option system. Hackenberg was the star recruit of O'Brien and had a tremendous freshman season playing for O'Brien. That led to O'Brien taking the head coaching job of the Houston Texans with Penn State hiring James Franklin from Vanderbilt. Smith didn't deny that the coaching change was hard on Hackenberg and himself.
"Nobody likes switching coaches and stuff like that, especially going from Bill O'Brien to James Franklin," said Smith. "Just the fact that [O'Brien] was in the NFL and introduced us to a different way of football. It was kind of tough but we just rolled with it."
This year, Smith has had an impressive rookie season and looks to be the Buccaneers' future left tackle to protect the face of their franchise in Jameis Winston. Winston has improved throughout his rookie campaign and looks capable of being an elite quarterback. Having spent years with Hackenberg and now a season with Winston, Smith answered our questions on how the two quarterbacks compare to each other.
"There is no comparison. They are completely different," said Smith. "Jameis is far past his time. Christian has some learning to do obviously, but Jameis is far past his time. He's been through a whole season and you learn so much being in a NFL locker room and a different group of men, aspects of life, everything."
In reading between the lines, Smith didn't put stock into the criticisms of Hackenberg, as he answered some questions while shaking his head. However he was more passionate and vociferous in praise of Winston. Winston was able to successfully address the character concerns about him in the lead up to the draft. Hackenberg will have that challenge in 2016 or 2017.