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
As soon as they hung up the phone after the seventh round selection in the NFL Draft the San Diego Chargers busily started making calls to sign their undrafted free agent class. Twenty players have been signed to compete for roster spots. Here is the full list.
Mike Berkovici QB, Arizona State
Terrell Chestnut CB, West Virginia
Kenneth Farrow RB, Houston
Tyler Johnstone OT, Oregon
Sebastian Johansson G, Marshall
Jamaal Jones WR, Montana
Chris Landrum OLB, Jacksonville State
Mike McQueen G, Ohio
Adrian McDonald S, Houston
Tyler Marcordes OLB, Georgia Tech
Spencer Pulley C, Vanderbilt
Shaq Pettway LB, West Virginia
Zeth Ramsay OT, Colorado Mesa
Deandre Reaves WR, Marshall
Jay Rome TE, Georgia
Larry Scott CB, Oregon State
Chris Swain RB, Navy
Dominique Williams WR, Washington State
Trevor Williams CB, Penn State
Carlos Wray DE, Duke
Unless you’re a college football aficionado most of these names are unfamiliar but there are a handful of names here to keep an eye on. Living in Phoenix, I have seen Mike Berkovici in person and he is a great story of hard work and perseverance. Instead of transferring schools when ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly was getting all the on-field time, Berkovici stayed true to his team and supported Kelly. After finally getting his starting opportunity when Kelly was injured at the beginning of the 2014 season, Berkovici led the Sun Devils to a 5-1 record including hanging a 510-yard, 5-touchdown game on USC on the road. Check out the clip below of the 2016 Cactus Bowl shootout against West Virginia.
Berkovici had a breakout season in 2015 where he took over the reins for the departed Kelly. Last season he went 318-531 for 3,855 yards, 30 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He also ran for 347 yards and 6 touchdowns. Berkovici had three games last season where he threw for 395 yards or more. In each he had at least four touchdowns. I was in attendance when ASU hosted the Oregon Ducks in what turned into a 61-55 3-overtime shootout. Berkovici went 32-53 for 398 yards and 5 touchdowns in a controversial loss.
Calling my shot here. Berkovici will make the team.
Another diamond in the rough could be Adrian McDonald out of Houston. Semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe award (given to the top defensive back), McDonald (5″11′, 205 lbs.) is a playmaker and legitimate ball hawk, swiping 17 interceptions over his career at Houston.
San Diego is determined to make sure the center position is solidified this season not only with the selection of Max Tuerk in the third round but by adding Pulley in the undrafted free agent class. With his great size (6″4′, 300 lbs.) and obvious mastery of his technique (35 pancake blocks in 2015), this will be a position battle to watch this offseason.
The future is looking a lot brighter than it did a week ago.
What do you think Boltfam? Leave your thoughts below.
The Greg One