Tennessee Titans: The evolution of Zach Mettenberger


Zach Mettenberger was without question the most polarizing player for the Tennessee Titans this offseason. Last May, Mettenberger walked into Tennessee’s locker room as a mere afterthought. A sixth round “insurance” pick to back up Jake Locker and newly acquired backup qb Charlie Whitehurst.

Since then, we’ve witnessed Mettenberger go from third string…to backup…to starting on Monday Night Football against Big Ben and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Nov 30, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger (7) throws in the pocket under pressure from Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) in the third quarter at NRG Stadium. Mettenberger was injured on the play. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

J.J. Watt, one of the most recognizable players in the league, gave Mettenberger’s Q rating a shot in the arm with his reaction to the rookie’s pre-game “selfie pic” prior to his first professional start. He was growing comfortable in the spotlight. Things were definitely looking up.

Then came the injury that cost Mettenberger the final three games of the season. And more importantly, it cost him his job.

That’s twice now that an injury may have cost him a starting job. If fully healthy entering last year’s draft, then Mettenberger would have certainly been selected higher. And if he would have been able to finish the season and string together a win or two, then maybe the Marcus Mariota era never starts in Nashville. In a twelve month span, Zach Mettenberger has come full circle…

Right back to holding the clipboard. Wow.

So if you step back and look at it from a panoramic view, it’s now easier to see how Mettenberger could have mishandled Mariota’s arrival. Anyone that’s old enough to have ever had a “what if” in life, knows how hard they can be to overcome. Especially for a 23 year old.

But these next twelve months could define Mettenberger’s entire career.

If you believe head coach Ken Whisenhunt, then Mettenberger will be holding that clipboard for the foreseeable future, so he needs to understand that…and work on improving while aligning his personal aspirations with the team goals.

So far, so good.

After initially telling ESPN’s Adam Caplan that his pending competition with Mariota was going to be a “fight to the death”, Mettenberger went silent as OTA’s approached.

When he finally resurfaced, ESPN staff writer Paul Kuharsky reported a different qb, one that seemed to have reflected on his prior actions, and how it could negatively impact the team.

When asked again about the fight to the death quote, Kuharsky reports that Mettenberger put a lighter spin on it this time. His quote…

“I was just trying to be funny and of course through text message you can’t really see the sarcasm and me trying to be funny in that,”  “But I am, I would fight him to the death right now, Give me an axe, give him maybe a mace or something, we’ll do it. …”

Mettenberger also gave his thoughts on the new starting qb.

“He’s been great, he’s really got a sharp personality. He doesn’t need a lot of my help, he’s been picking up things very quickly, but if he asks we’ll all definitely help him out.”

That’s what I call a locker room chemistry building statement.

Of course Mettenberger wants to start over Mariota, but the above quote keeps the media at bay. It also keeps his coaches and teammates from having to constantly agree with or defend his comment.

And it’s not like backup Titans’ qb’s haven’t played prominent roles before.

In 1999, backup qb Neil O’Donnell stepped in for an injured Steve McNair and led Tennessee to a 3-1 record in his absence. O’Donnell played so well that Titans fans were split down the middle on who should start going forward. McNair, of course, regained his starting role when he was cleared to play and the rest is history.

O’Donnell, to his credit, did not make a public stink about it. But without his month long stretch, there may have never been a Music City Miracle.

Like O’Donnell, Mettenberger put his pride aside and took one for the team. Now everyone can move on to more important things….like snapping a ten game losing streak.

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