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NFL Combine notebook: Hackenberg might reunite with former Penn State coach

| Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, 7:21 p.m.

It all might come full circle for Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

Hackenberg was recruited and had his best year under coach Bill O'Brien, and two years after O'Brien bolted for the NFL's Houston Texans, O'Brien needs a quarterback. Hackenberg might be that guy.

O'Brien wasn't about to tip his hand Thursday while talking to the media at the NFL Combine.

“I'll tell you, first of all he's a great kid, comes from a great family,” O'Brien said. “I've known him since he was 17 years old when he was at Fork Union. I've known him for a long time, know his parents, his brothers. He's a humble kid. He's a talented, smart, good guy to be around, and I enjoyed coaching him his first year at Penn State.”

Hackenberg thrived under O'Brien during his freshman year, posting career highs in completion percentage (58.9), yards per attempt (7.5), and touchdowns (20). Under James Franklin, Hackenberg wasn't nearly as successful.

“I was able to work through adversity,” Hackenberg said “I think adversity really shapes who you are. Success is easy to roll with, but how you respond to adversity is really huge.”

The Texans have the 22nd pick in April's draft and has Brian Hoyer penciled in as the starter.

“I think it would be a great opportunity,” Hackenberg said. “But at the end of the day, I'm here just trying to be the best prospect I can be and impress as many football teams as I can.”

Dual-threat tight end

The day of the every-down tight end is almost extinct in college football, and Arkansas' Hunter Henry is sad. It is an interesting twist to a wide receiver in high school who played in the spread.

“The college game is turning into a spread-offense game, sadly,” Henry said. “We were one of the few offenses that were a run-first, pass-second, almost-balanced offense. True pro style, I would say.”

Henry — the top tight end prospect in the draft — was recruited to Arkansas as a tight end despite being a receiver in high school. Henry went on to have a solid three-year career with the Razorbacks, catching 116 passes for 1,661 yards and nine touchdowns en route to winning the John Mackey Award in 2015.

“I'm going to bring a dual-threat tight end that's going to put his head in there in the run game. I'm going to block. I did that in college consistently. And I'm going to create a mismatch in the passing game,” he said.

Henry is projected to be selected in the first round of the draft and could be a perfect match for the Steelers after Heath Miller retired last week.

“It would be great,” Henry said about getting drafted by the Steelers. “I'd love to go there. I'd love to go anywhere, any team in any place. I'm looking forward to wherever I go.”

Doing his homework

Stanford tight end Austin Hooper said he couldn't help but browse the internet to see what team was in need of a tight end.

“I mean, I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't study teams who need them,” Hooper said. “I take a look at teams who release tight ends, teams that let other guys go — not just cut them, but allow them to hit the free agent market — and other teams that have multiple tight ends. I'm sure all the tight ends are the same and take a look, so when the team talks to you, you can have an educated conversation with them.”

And yes, Hooper noticed Miller retired.

“Yes. Yes sir, I noticed that, and Rob Blanchflower is no longer part of the Steelers, I believe, too,” Hooper said.

The Steelers were scheduled to meet with Hooper on Thursday.

“Great organization,” Hooper said. “Coach J.D. (Steelers tight end coach James Daniels) seems like a real knowledgeable guy, so hopefully I can pick his brain a little bit later.”

Little Gronk

Kansas State fullback Glenn Gronkowski got asked the same question a whole heck of a lot of times the past two days by media and teams: “Did you go on the Gronk cruise?”

“Yeah, I've actually been asked about the cruise probably 50 times since I've been here so far,” Gronkowski said. “I was not on the cruise, unfortunately. Seen some pretty fun videos from it, though.”

Gronkowski is the youngest brother of New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who graduated from Woodland Hills. The younger Gronkowski said he wants to make a name for himself in the league.

“That's the goal,” Gronkowski said. “Obviously, I want to come out here and do the best I can in everything. Hopefully make a team, hopefully help the team win and show what I can do and become a player.”

Gronkowski is projected as a low-round pick.

Cap carryover

The Steelers will carryover $3,000,327 of unused cap space from the 2015 season, the NFLPA announced Thursday. Under the collective bargaining agreement, each NFL team has the option to carry over unused cap space from the prior league year.

Mark Kaboly is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. He can be reached at or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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