LSU success rests on QB Mettenberger
HOOVER, Ala. -- Zach Mettenberger got a small taste of what his season is going to be like.
A relatively tiny but enthusiastic crowd of Alabama and Auburn fans booed as the LSU quarterback walked through the lobby of the Wynfrey Hotel at SEC Media Days on Wednesday afternoon. An even smaller cluster of purple-clad faithful gave him full-throated cheers.
Such will be the daily existence of the most scrutinized player in the Southeastern Conference.
LSU spent much of last year at No. 1 and return a slew of talented players on both sides of the ball. But their quarterback hasn't played a down. Given his history – released from Georgia, JuCo, followed by a tepid on-field effort to move up the depth chart last year – and the fact that he came into Baton Rouge amid great expectations, and it's easy to see how Mettenberger's every completion, interception, step and misstep will be micro-analyzed.
LSU lovers and haters alike will live and die on his every move.
His coaches and teammates know how bright this spotlight is likely to get. That's why Les Miles brought Mettenberger to Hoover, Ala.
He was the first player in recent SEC Media Days history to attend having never started a game.
"You let him understand that (Media Days) is an experience not unlike what he will see on game day," Miles said of managing Mettenberger. "There is unusual scrutiny at the quarterback position, but the reality is, his success will be based on how he operates on a daily basis. As long as he takes it a day at a time and continues to work as hard as he works, and we don't expect too much of him right away, I think he'll be fine."
That might be whistling past the graveyard. This is, after all, a player who wasn't better than Jordan Jefferson or Jarrett Lee in a year when both those quarterbacks sputtered. Another coach might have shielded Mettenberger from the intensity of Media Days.
But Miles took another road.
"I don't think shielding him is great training for the fall," Miles said. "As best I can, I'm going to try to protect him. But getting him out front now so he can see what leadership is about in an environment where he can rationalize it and see it, allows him to function a little more.
"I believe, you give him as much as he can handle, but not too much. You recognize that he's pretty talented, but realize that he's one of 11 guys out there. He's just the quarterback."
Miles wasn't being funny. He really believes that the quarterback is "just the quarterback."
Tigers fans see things differently.
For his part, Mettenberger recognizes the red-hot environment he's entering, and he is approaching it the only way he knows how.
"If I can keep getting better every day and make the most of my opportunity, then I think I'll be alright," he said. "The quarterback position is a leadership position. It's in the job description. I feel like I've shown to this staff and to my teammates that I'm willing to take on this leadership role. And if I can just play within myself, keep the ball in our hands, and don't turn it over, we're going to be pretty good this year."
As part of his preparation, Mettenberger attended the Manning Camp this summer, and learned more about how to conduct himself off the field than how to play football on it.
"I got to learn a lot from two of the best in the game in Peyton and Eli, and see what good guys they are," he said. "You see all these guys and to see the games they've won, and to see what kind of people they really are was an eye-opener."
The real eye-opener will be Sept. 1 vs. North Texas when Mettenberger breaks the huddle as LSU's starting quarterback for the first time.
"I know there will be a lot of scrutiny," he said. "It's part of the job of playing quarterback. I'm going to try to rely on my teammates to help me out. And if I can just play within myself – just be Zach Mettenberger - then I think I'll be just fine."