The news of the week for the San Diego Chargers was the acquisition of former Tennessee Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger. The Bolts claimed him off waivers Tuesday and released quarterback Bryn Renner to make space on the roster.
With Mettenberger in the fold that makes three quarterbacks at camp vying for the back-up quarterback position behind Philip Rivers. Kellen Clemens and undrafted free agent Mike Bercovici are the other quarterbacks filling out what will be a very interesting camp battle.
Mettenberger, 24, was selected in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Titans. Standing 6’5″, 224 pounds, Mettenberger was a standout quarterback at LSU. Moving into the starting lineup in his junior season, Mettenberger excelled right away. In leading the Tigers to a 10-3 (6-2 in the SEC) season, Mettenberger went 207-352 for 2,609 yards, 12 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. They lost by one point in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl to Clemson 25-24. LSU finished 12th in the Coaches Poll and 14th in the Associated Press Poll that year.
In his senior season, Mettenberger made another quantum leap forward. Although they duplicated their record from the previous season at 10-3 (5-3 vs. the SEC), Mettenberger went 192-296 for 3,082 yards, 22 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. The Tigers finished 14th in the AP and Coaches Poll as a result.
According to his 2014 draft profile on numerous NFL sites including NFL.com and WalterFootball.com, Mettenberger’s strengths are his outstanding arm strength, size, field vision and working from a pro-style offense in college. In his senior season he had a new offensive coordinator in Cam Cameron calling his plays. Cameron had just left the same position for the San Diego Chargers that offseason. Cameron’s arrival was key in Mettenberger’s senior year explosion.
Mettenberger’s perceived weaknesses were his footwork, work-ethic, long delivery and needing to improve his accuracy. For all intents and purposes Mettenberger had second-round talent. The main catalyst in his plunge into the late rounds was an ACL injury he suffered in the final game of the 2013 regular season. The injury prevented Mettenberger from participating in the NFL Combine. He did shine at LSU’s Pro Day where he completed 90% of his 125 passes.
The discussion of who the heir apparent to Philip Rivers should be has raged on for multiple seasons. We all know Scott Tolzien, Brad Sorensen, Kellen Clemens and Charlie Whitehurst were never going to be the answer to that question.
Mettenberger already has the advantage of knowing the system of new Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt was the head coach for the Titans for both of Mettenbergers’ years in Nashville. The last time the Chargers made the playoffs was the one year Whisenhunt was the offensive coordinator. The Chargers leaped from 31st to 5th in total offense in that season. Tennessee offered him their head coach position immediately after the season. He was fired halfway through his second season as head coach.
Whisenhunt brought John McNulty with him from Tennessee to be the Bolts new tight ends coach. McNulty was Mettenbergers’ quarterbacks coach in Tennessee. In a new interview with Ricky Henne of Chargers.com his had this to say about reuniting with his old coaches:
“I was definitely relieved to come to a situation where the future looks good for me. That was a long 24 hours to be waiting so it was great to hear his voice.” Mettenberger was speaking of Ken Whisenhunt, who called Mettenberger immediately after the waiver claim was official. Mettenberger continued. “The first thing he asked me was if I still remember the playbook. Fortunately, I know it really well. He was really excited to get back to work with me. He was the one who drafted me, so it’s worked out really well. It’s awesome to be back with Coach Whiz and Coach McNulty.”
Did the Chargers just stumble onto their quarterback of the future?
Pessimists will point to the fact that Mettenberger is 0-10 as a starting quarterback in the NFL. That is true. What also can’t be disputed is how awful the Tennessee Titans have been over the past two seasons. The Titans were 2-14 the season Mettenberger was drafted and 3-13 in 2015. The Titans ranked 25th or lower in the NFL in rushing yards, passing yards, points for and points against.
Mettenberger had a better offense at LSU than he had in Tennessee. At least at LSU he had Pro Bowlers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. to catch the ball. Alfred Blue and Jeremy Hill were chewing up yards running the football.
Mettenberger is in an ideal situation in San Diego. With his knowledge of the offense and coaches he already has a leg up on Clemens and Bercovici. He now has a better team and an elite, veteran NFL quarterback as a mentor. Rivers’ contract ends at the conclusion of the 2019 season. In three seasons Mettenberger will be 27 and ready to step into the starting spot. There is no pressure to produce right away as there was in Tennessee.
We’ve seen this situation play out with great success when you consider stars like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Rivers himself. All of them watched from the bench for a season or more before their number was called. All of them will be enshrined in Canton, Ohio one day.
The reset button has been pushed on Zach Mettenberger’s career. For the first time since the departure of Drew Brees there appears to be a capable second-in-command waiting in the wings. Is Mettenberger that man? Post your thoughts in the comments below.
The Greg One
Hey, Chargers fans and friends. I’m glad to be back with my first article in quite a while. There certainly will be more to come.
Why is it that, over the years, San Diego has been plagued by the “terrible yellow flag”?
The Chargers, like all NFL teams, have to play mistake-free football on the road. Too many penalties and mistakes have plagued the team for years. That would continue to be the case in the Chargers’ 24-19 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
To be down by only 4 points at the start of the 4th quarter against the Bengals shows a lot of maturity and resilience from our boys in blue.
San Diego played well enough to stay even with the Bengals throughout the game. If you’ve heard the phrase “this is a game of inches”, that doesn’t just refer to yards gained by the offense. Many don’t understand how much penalties are detrimental to a team on the road. As I write this, the Chargers have had 8 penalties so far.
I don’t need to remind you of the offense. It could have been better. With D.J. Fluker out of the lineup, the Bengals took advantage. The Cincinnati defense crowded the line of scrimmage. That is not to say Hairston didn’t do a good job, but it shows how the talent level of the backups, especially on the O-line, is crucial. And, quite honestly, Hairston was terrible, being flagged and beaten ad nauseam on Sunday.
Malcom Floyd was wide open with that last touchdown but where was he during the first 3 quarters? Additionally, although the final throw of the game is being viewed as a poor decision by Philip Rivers, it appeared that Floyd was a bit lazy, rounding off his route as opposed to sharply breaking it off.
Defensively, the Chargers still need to get better against the run. Despite forcing two Jeremy Hill fumbles, John Pagano’s unit was thrashed by Gio Bernard to the tune of 123 yards. The defense gave up a total of 175 yards on the ground. There were too many big holes and missed assignments. A mention of Brandon Flowers…I love the guy’s talent, but he got beat too many times today. Flowers was beat on all three Andy Dalton touchdown passes.
Melvin Gordon, what can I say, huge improvement, great job. I saw quick feet and better decisions. Gordon had three runs of over 20 yards in his second game as a professional. The first-round draft picked carried the ball 16 times for 88 yards.
Overall, my opinion is this:
Frank Reich needs to get more creative with the play calling, especially on the road. Don’t fall into “Norv Turner” mode. Predictable and it showed throughout the game.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell football fans this, but I’ll say it anyway: Any team that plays on the road needs to play like they’re playing at home and the other team is the visitors. On the road, the Chargers seem to play equal to the other team’s talent, but not much better. Although the Bolts had flashes of emotion, I saw more intensity in the Bengals.
I wasn’t all that impressed with Cincinnati. I was more disappointed with the Chargers’ mistakes, penalties and overall lack of consistency and intensity.
Chargers (1-0) travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals (1-0). Here are three things the Chargers must do to come back to San Diego with a win.
1.) Force Andy Dalton to try to beat you by containing the running game
Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard anchor the backfield for the Bengals and they are two very good backs. Jeremy Hill is a big back who is physical, yet elusive. As a rookie, Hill had 1,124 rushing yards (good enough for 5.1 yards a carry) and nine TDs. Last Sunday versus the Raiders, Hill went for 63 yards on 19 attempts (3.3 yards per carry) and two scores. Gio Bernard is the quick, multi-use back. Last season, he ran for 680 yards on 168 attempts (4.0 yards a run) with five TDs and caught 43 passes for 349 yards (8.1 yards a catch) with two touchdowns. Combined, he had a total of 211 touches for 1,029 yards (4.8 yards a touch) and seven touchdowns. Last week, the Chargers gave up 69 rushing yards on 16 attempts (4.3 yards a run) and one TD. That is going to have to tighten up. The Bengals are very balanced on offense and will not be afraid to run the ball down the Chargers’ throat. Contain Hill and Bernard, forcing Dalton to try to beat you.
2.) Get the ball to Danny Woodhead
Danny Woodhead is the key to this Chargers’ offense. He is a matchup nightmare, and a guy who is Rivers’ security blanket that can turn a one-yard gain into a new set of downs. The last time these two teams faced off against one another, Woodhead had 17 touches for 68 yards (4.0 yards per touch) and the offense went for 324 total yards. That day was the Chargers’ first playoff victory under Mike McCoy and the team’s first playoff win since 2008. Woodhead makes the linebackers think more and forces them to play up closer than they normally would, leaving the middle of the field open for a Stevie Johnson or Ladarius Green.
3.) Win the turnover battle
This should be obvious, for many reasons. But for the Chargers, it’s an important one. Limit the turnovers you make, play ball-control offense with the running game and short passes, keep your defense healthy and let Rivers do what he does best, and that’s control the game. Andy Dalton is very “friendly”, and by that I mean he turns the ball over a lot. In Dalton’s four years as a pro, he has 66 interceptions on 2,145 attempts. That averages out to 16.5 a season and just a tad over one a game and one every 32.5 pass attempts. For the Chargers to get the highest chance of a turnover, they must get the lead early and pressure the former second-round signal caller in the passing game. If they do this, I feel very strongly about their chances at victory in Cincinnati.
What do you think are the keys to victory? Let me know in the comments below. Go Bolts!