NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It didnât take long for quarterback Zach Mettenberger to catch the eye of Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt.
Just six days after being selected in the sixth round of the NFL Draft — in what Whisenhunt labeled as a "low-risk, high reward" pick — the former LSU standout was showing off his notable arm strength at last week’s rookie minicamp.
Granted, the players werenât in pads and there was no contact, but Mettenberger launched a deep pass on his first play from scrimmage that curled nicely into the receiver’s hands for a touchdown strike.
"The first play of the practice, Zach threw one deep, and we caught it," Whisenhunt said. "That’s what you would like to see out of your quarterback."
EDITOR’S NOTE: According to The Tennessean, Mettenberger and the Titans agreed to a four-year contract on Tuesday, worth approximately $2.2 million.
If anything, Whisenhunt is known as a quarterback whisperer. His expertise as offensive coordinator jump-started Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisbergerâs career, rejuvenated veteran Kurt Warner while serving as the Cardinals’ head coach.
And as the Chargers’ offensive coordinator last year, Whisenhunt enjoyed similar success with Philip Rivers, helping the quarterback throw for 4,478 yards, 32 touchdowns and an NFL-best completion rate of 69.5 percent.
That’s why Whisenhunt was paying particular attention to Mettenberger during the rookie camp. It culminated a week of Mettenberger being on site and in the classroom studying the new offense, alongside starter Jake Locker, backup Charlie Whitehurst and current No. 3 Tyler Wilson.
"What you want to see out of him is how he handles the huddle, how he calls the play, how he interacts with the team," Whisenhunt said of the 6-foot-5, 224-pound Mettenberger. "I thought he was in command in the huddle. You could tell he has done this. It wasnât too big for him.
"He handled the plays well. So, a lot of the details as far as the footwork and some of the little technique things, we’ve got to work on. But it was a good start for him."
It can also be called a fresh start for the strong-armed Mettenberger, whose draft stock plummeted for a variety of reasons, including a failed drug test at the NFL Combine — due to a diluted urine sample.
Mettenberger also suffered a torn ACL in LSU’s regular-season finale last November, which required surgery in January. (The QB looks to be approaching full health in camp.) Then there’s the baggage of being kicked off Georgia in 2010, after pleading guilty to misdemeanor sexual battery.
After guiding Butler (Kan.) Community College to the junior college national championship game, Mettenberger played at LSU from 2011-13. He was 19-6 as the Tigers’ starter and is the only LSU quarterback to pass for 2,500 yards in consecutive seasons.
"It doesn’t matter," Mettenberger said of falling to Round 6. "I could have gone first overall, but the draft is just the beginning of the process. The great ones don’t think they made it after the draft.
"Being drafted in the sixth round, I was just proud to have the opportunity to call myself a Titan and come in and get to work."
As far as the repaired knee, Mettenberger said he’s close to 100 percent and will be ready for next week’s Organized Team Activities, running Tuesday through Thursday.
"I’m full go," he said. "I’m not having any limitations on me right now. The training staff is trying to modify my workload a little bit, just so I don’t overwork it and stress it and have a major setback.
"… I am doing everything that I can. Hopefully by training camp (in late July), I’ll be able to have those limitations taken off me."
The incumbent-starter Locker missed nine games last year and five in 2012 for various maladies, prompting the Titans not to exercise his 2015 option ($14.6 million). In essence, Locker is a lame duck and still trying to prove he can be Tennessee’s long-term quarterback.
If not, then Mettenberger could grow to challenge for that spot. Playing under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron (LSU’s O-coordinator), the former NFL head coach and offensive coordinator, Mettenberger proved he can be the prototypical quarterback who can stand firm in the pocket and make all the necessary throws.
"He has always been a guy that stands in the pocket," Whisenhunt said of Mettenberger, who passed for 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. "That’s one of the things that was impressive about him in college. He doesn’t seem like that’s affected him."
The Titans moved up in the draft to select Mettenberger, who has a great appreciation for his recent batch of coaching/QB mentors.
"Coming from college, I had the opportunity to work with coach Cam and really got my foot in the door with what being an NFL quarterback is like," Mettenberger said.
"To come here and to have an established quarterback coach and head coach with the pedigree that he has — he’s worked with a lot of great guys — and to have the opportunity to work with him, he really helped me out a lot.
"I’m excited to what the future will bring with this relationship."