Rehab ahead of schedule, LSU’s Mettenberger readies for pro day

Zach Mettenberger, who underwent surgery for a torn ACL in his left knee on Jan. 2, says he'll throw at LSU's April 9 pro day and will be ready for rookie camp.

Chuck Cook/Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — Zach Mettenberger emerged from the FOX Sports South studio after his four-hour taping of ‘The Panel,’ just the latest stop in a media blitz for the former LSU quarterback as he awaits May’s NFL draft.

"You’ve got to be everywhere, you’ve got to talk to everyone, (but) at the same you have to prepare yourself to get drafted," Mettenberger said. "It’s a fine line."

He has been working out at Test Football Academy in New Jersey, made appearances on ESPN and has an upcoming charity bowling event in Connecticut. But soon, Mettenberger will return to Baton Rouge to prepare for the Tigers’ April 19 pro day, where he’ll get his first chance to work out in front of scouts since undergoing surgery for a torn ACL in his left knee.

After missing the Senior Bowl and the physical elements of the combine (he was still able to do medical evaluations and interview with teams), which could have helped his draft stock, Mettenberger isn’t putting too much emphasis on the opportunity — though he is planning on working with wide receivers Jarvis Landry and O’Dell Beckham ahead of the pro day to "get back on the same page again."

"Throwing’s easy for me. That’s nothing," Mettenberger said. "I’m not stressed about that, that’s what I do."

The proof, he believes is in his film.

That shows a 6-foot-5, 230-pound prototypical drop-back passer who hit on 64.9 percent of his passes last season for 3,082 yards, 22 touchdowns and eight touchdowns before suffering the season-ending injury Nov. 29 against Arkansas. It also shows a QB who worked in a pro-style scheme under offensive coordinator and former NFL coach Cam Cameron.

"He’s worked with a lot of great ones," Mettenberger said of Cameron. "He runs the same system and (we were) talking about the terminology and he agreed it’s going to be really big for me to come from a system that’s still used in the NFL and having a guy that had a lot of success running it. There’s many things I can take to the next level."

If there’s a knock on Mettenberger, it’s his mobility, a concern amplified by his being sacked 21 times last year and the NFL’s trend toward dual-threat QBs. But, as Mettenberger points out, the likes of Tom Brady and Petyon Manning have never been lauded for what they can do with their legs.

"There’s a lot of great ones that aren’t very mobile that have won a lot of Super Bowls," he said. "I think it’s just the trend in football, but at the end of the day, you need a smart guy who can be pin-point accurate in a pressure situation and the NFL is always going to need that and it’s something I think I can do really well."

Projected as a third or fourth-round pick by CBSSports.com, which lists him as the seventh-best quarterback available and the 108th prospect overall, Mettenberger is is tied for ninth on NFL.com’s QB rankings. If his knee is holding him back, Mettenberger is quick to alleviate any fears about his rehab, saying "I’m really far ahead of schedule and doing a lot of things that most guys wouldn’t be doing." He also expects to be ready for rookie camp.

Cameron went beyond that, telling the ‘Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’ his former pupil’s recovery from the Jan. 2 surgery has been "miraculous" and that the knee may be more sound after the procedure than it was before it.

"I’m not saying he’s Adrian Peterson, but he’s going to be close," Cameron said. "With technology today and you add his work ethic, he may be one of those guys who’s better off and has more knee stability now."

Untimely as the surgery and the rehab period might have been, the situation did allow Mettenberger to get a jump start on his film-study.

"I can’t focus on the physical side, so I’ve had to indulge myself in the mental side to compensate for what I’ve missed physically," Mettenberger said.

He was able to flash that knowledge as he broke down clips with ‘The Panel’s group of former NFL players, Tim Couch, Julian Peterson and Takeo Spikes and current Panthers tight end Greg Olsen.

Zach Mettenberger (foreground) appears with (from the left) Greg Olsen, Julius Peterson, Tim Couch and Takeo Spikes during filming of ‘The Panel.’        

The episode will debut on FOX Sports South on Monday, March 24 at 5:30 p.m. ET.

"I think he has probably the strongest arm in the draft out of all the quarterbacks," said Couch, who was the No. 1 overall pick in 1999. "There’s always going to be a place in the NFL for a guy who can stand in the pocket and throw it. It’s always going to come down to that. At the end of the day, it’s good to be able to move around, it’s good to be able to do those things, but if you can’t consistently make throws in the pocket, you can’t play in the NFL."

Mettenberger’s injury — including the timing of it — and his position of playing from behind as he readies for the draft have added another wrinkle to a shared path with ex-Georgia QB Aaron Murray.

The two were both signed by the Bulldogs in the Class of 2009 — Mettenberger committed in Feb. 2008 and Murray did the same three months later — and in the spring of ’10, competed for the starting gig, which Murray would ultimately win.

Dismissed from the program on April 8, 2010 following an incident at a bar in Remerton, Ga., Mettenberger rebuilt his reputation and his game at Butler (Kan.) Community College, going 11-1 before signing with the Tigers.

This last season, it all came full circle as Mettenberger returned to Athens and waged a back-and-forth battle with Murray. Mettenberger threw for a career-high 372 yards (23 of 37) for three TDs, but it was Murray that got the best of him, hitting Justin Scott-Wesley for the decisive 25-yard score with 1:47 remaining.

Their story added another wrinkle as six days before Mettenberger’s knee injury, Murray suffered one of his own, tearing the ACL in his left knee on Nov. 23 against Kentucky, and after undergoing surgery, was also unable to fully participate in the combine.

"After surgery we texted a little bit and got to know what we were doing surgery-wise," Mettenberger said. "At the combine he was in the same group as me and we spent a lot of time together."

As far as his destination or when he expects to get drafted, Mettenberger maintains he doesn’t have a preference. It’s all a whirlwind for him right now, one with commitments and extra responsibilities he didn’t know were part of the process.

"It’s crazy. It’s a crazy time," he said. "Not what I expected for the preparation and everything that goes into being drafted. I thought, you were just drafted and there you go."