NASHVILLE, Tenn. — If all goes well, Zach Mettenberger might someday be the face of the Tennessee Titans.
That type of franchise designation is usually reserved for the starting quarterback of any NFL team.
While the rookie quarterback must eventually prove worthy of the part, he certainly got the memo from Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt to first look the part.
That involved Mettenberger, who’s replacing Jake Locker at quarterback, to drop the Shaggy/Scooby-Do stand-in ace become a clean-shaven, well-groomed team leader.
"It was always the plan whenever I was named the starter to kind of clean up my act," Mettenberger said on Tuesday. "I looked at it as the only opportunity to look like a homeless person as being a third-string quarterback. Most people aren’t talking about third-string quarterbacks."
But many people are now talking about Mettenberger, the sixth-round draft pick (LSU) who made his NFL-starting debut against the Houston Texans on Sunday.
A photo posted by Zach Mettenberger (@zachmett7) on
By most accounts, Mettenberger (299 yards passing, two TDs, one INT vs. Houston) passed that initial test, although not necessarily with flying colors.
"The face of the franchise thing, that is yet to be determined," Whisenhunt said of Mettenberger, who completed 27 of 41 passes against the Texans. "That will be determined by his play. We all understand that being the quarterback is an important position.
"The one thing we have had discussions about is that understanding that if you are the starting quarterback, that there are going to be people that look at you, that want to talk to you, that see you, and you have to represent yourself and the organization the right way."
While Mettenberger termed the decision as "mutual" to have the appearance overhaul, Whisenhunt said it certainly wasn’t a decision the rookie concluded on his own volition.
"I would not say that was a decision he made on his own," said Whisenhunt. "Because of what that position exactly entails, I think it’s important that you are viewed the right way when you are a quarterback. Once you won a lot of games, once you have had success, I think you can do just about whatever you want. But that’s not the case, so I think it is important to start off on the right foot."
After Sunday’s game, Mettenberger was taken to task by Texans all-star defensive lineman J.J. Watt for sending out "selfies" on his Twitter account from the locker room — just hours before the game.
That didn’t seem to bother Whisenhunt, who has other ways of judging whether Mettenberger will eventually be the Titans’ long-term starter.
"I don’t know if that’s common," Whisenhunt says of Mettenberger’s tweets. "If that’s what they do in this generation or not. I don’t know. All I can do is judge it by what I see on his efforts here.
" … The one thing I will say about Zach, he’s one of the first guys in the building in the morning and one of the last to leave, and that’s been the case before he was the starting quarterback. That actually started back in camp. From that standpoint, the effort is there. The work is there, and that’s what you like to see."
Mettenberger attributed the social-media presence as simply having some fun on one of the biggest days of his life.
"I know how hard I work," he said. "I know what I am doing here each and every day. It’s really something that I can’t be concerned about. If social media ever becomes a distraction for me, that’s when I know I just need to give it up."
Whisenhunt liked most of what he saw of Mettenberger against the Texans, although the first half was shaky. The Tennessee offense would fail to get a first down in four of the initial six possessions, and make only three the entire half.
In the second half, though, Mettenberger connected on big completions to wide receivers Nate Washington (43 yards) and Kendall Wright (48 yards).
He also had touchdown passes to tight end Delanie Walker (6 yards) in the third quarter and wide receiver Justin Hunter (12 yards) in the fourth.
All told, seven different receivers had receptions of 12 yards or more.
"As far as assessment of him from the game," Whisenhunt said. "I would say he was probably a little bit over-amped in the first half. I think he settled down and played much better in the second half."
The Titans (2-6) will practice again Wednesday and take their bye week before returning to practice Monday.
Mettenberger will take the few off days in stride after coming to an important conclusion from his starting debut.
"That I can play in this league," he said. "My first experience as a starter was a great experience, but you always kind of have that in the back of your mind that if you can hang with these guys. I think I showed that when I do it right, I can play in this league."
Titans running back Dexter McCluster agreed that Mettenberger deserves a chance to be the starting quarterback.
"I think he showed some poise," McCluster said. "He had one interception, but that happens. He wasn’t rattled with it. We have to do a better job of putting ourselves in better situations."