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Who Are You Zach Mettenberger?

It's a good question, don't you think? As the Mythos of Mettenberger continues to grow before he takes a Division I snap, lost in all the hype is a legitimate discussion of what type of player he is and what are realistic expectations for his performance. I figure what better time to discuss it than the day after he officially signed the dotted line.

First, everyone knows the back story. Booted from Georgia for sexual misconduct. He's barred from the bubbling metropolis of Valdosta for his very transgressions. I see no point in dwelling on the issue. He's not a player with a sordid history and multiple incidents of misconduct. He got drunk and made a mistake... not to excuse his behavior, but one many of us have probably made a time or six and suffered no repercussions. Regardless, from all accounts this is in the past and he's moving forward with his life. There's a nice piece here about Mettenberger's time at Butler Community College and his progression as a person and football player.

Now, let's talk the fun stuff. Every LSU fan, college football writer/analyst and halfway observant person is well aware of the struggles of both the LSU offense, particularly at the QB position for the previous three seasons. In three years time, neither of our two young quarterbacks seem to have progressed into starting caliber type players. Though each has different weaknesses, neither have grown out of them. It's a constant game of two steps forward, one step back. A frustrating dance with inadequacy. I spent last year believing adding a running game would greatly aid Jordan Jefferson, but he only to have regressed. Jarrett Lee started strong but his play deteriorated as the year wore on to the point that it became evident why he was selected as the backup all along. In short, neither player inspired much confidence.

As fans we tend to hyperbolize most everything from wins and losses to struggles and successes to incoming talents. With the struggles at the quarterback position, we naturally expect the next incoming player to step in and work miracles. More commonly, you'll see modest signs of improvement, but not savior play. It's rare that a guy can come in and be an All-American as a young player. Sam Bradford's are rare, and there's a reason they go 1st overall in the NFL Draft. So, if you are expecting Mettenberger to step onto campus, throw for 600 TDs and never throw an incomplete pass, you will be mightily disappointed (I don't think I needed to tell any ATVS readers this).

So, what can we really expect?

G-Day Highlights: UGA 2010 Spring Scrimmage (via jlove3487)

Mettenberger is number five in the highlights above. Here's what I draw from the tape:

a) Footwork

If there's a glaring weakness with both Jefferson and Lee it's their glaringly poor footwork. Besides poor decision making, if you showed me a dozen poor throws from Jarrett Lee, I'd show you a dozen examples of poor footwork. Jefferson's problems are less exaggerated but equally as prevalent. His throwing mechanics are inconsistent at best, which often causes the inaccuracy of his throws. Now watch Mettenberger above. Ask any great QB what the secret is to being routinely successful, and one of the first things they will point to is a consistency in their mechanics. Listen to Drew Brees talk about throwing the ball. He aims to not only have his feet set but maintain the same arm angle, motion etc. on his throws. When I watch Mettenberger throw (yes, I know it's a spring game), there's a consistency there.

b) Ball Fakes

Neither of our QBs do very well with ball fakes. With an offense which is as dependent upon the run as ours is, selling the play action is vital to delivering big plays. Watch his head, watch the way he works to duplicate his motion on the handoffs when he makes a play action fake.

c) Touch

Neither of our QBs display any consistent touch on the ball. Most talk up Mettenberger's arm strength (and rightfully so), but unlike many strong-armed QBs, he also displays outstanding touch on the ball. There's more than a few throws on the tape above where he drops the ball over a defender, perfectly into his receiver's arms.

d) Pocket Awareness

This, perhaps more than anything, has been our undoing the past three years. Jefferson long struggles with holding on to the ball too long. Lee typically bails at the first sight of pressure. Watch Mettenberger above feel the pressure and get rid of the ball. Watch him step UP into the pocket.

I've seen many suggest that Mettenberger is fit for a pro-style attack. I don't disagree, but I don't see any reason why he couldn't succeed in a spread attack (read: not spread option). In fact, Georgia's offense blends the pro-style and spread stylings.

It's certainly not wrong to be excited about Mettenberger's potential. Most will say there's a zero percent chance he starts or even plays next season... I'm not sure I agree. Miles said routinely this year that we need to get better at that position. He's had ample time to see each player and identify their strengths and weaknesses. Mettenberger cannot red shirt, so you aren't sacrificing anything by playing him right away. He will be on campus for the spring... so he'll be given a shot to compete for the job.

What should give us pause is the Gary Crowton offense. There is a possibility that Crowton has been handcuffed by poor QB evaluation. I'd say there's very little chance Mettenberger is an out and out bust in that regard. If Mettenberger steps in and plays right away and the offense takes off, perhaps it will illustrate that Crowton really was hampered by QB play. However, I more fully think the issue goes back to Crowton. If the offense continues to be the disorganized mess we've seen for the last three seasons, don't expect Mettenberger to excel, despite his talent.

Now, there still remains the possibility we make a change at offensive coordinator or even bring in an actual QB coach. Either of those things should give us reason for optimism.

Mettenberger is a prototypical NFL type of QB: big, strong, with a powerful arm. He plays with a lot of energy and from interviews alone he seems to have an outspoken, amenable personality (you could easily see how guys would want to play for him). With our offensive talent, he should have an excellent chance to excel, assuming we can develop some type of offensive consistency. There's a lot to be excited about with Mettenberger... the potential is there for greatness... the question is... can we tap into it?