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Five Things, LSU Football Spring Practice: Quarterbacks

Another spring, another year of sticking this position under the microscope.

Chris Graythen

8 Zach Mettenberger (Sr.)

6-5, 230

Completed 207 of 352 passes (59%) for 2,609 yards (7.4 yards per attempt) with 12 TDs and 7 interceptions.

17 Stephen Rivers (RS-So.)

6-8, 225

Saw time in 4 games but only attempted 2 passes (0-2)

10 Anthony Jennings (Fr.)

6-2, 205

2012 stats not available (?)*

11 Hayden Rettig (Fr.)

6-2, 201

Completed 261 of 485 passes (54%) for 3,424 yards (7.0) w/40 TDs and 18 interceptions at Cathedral High School in Los Angeles.

1 Rob Bolden (Jr.)

6-4, 208

Injury redshirt.

*Really annoying. WTF recruiting sites?

1. Five scholarship quarterbacks. Wow. Remember the last time LSU had that much depth going through a spring practice session? Yeah, Rob Bolden is injured and not fully participating, but there are a lot of arms for this coaching staff to work with. Having both members of the best quarterback recruiting class since the '03 Russell/Flynn group on hand certainly helps, and it means that even with an established starter, there's some real competition to fill out the chart. I can't even remember LSU had a group of quarterbacks like this.

2. But really, who are we here to talk about? Zach Mettenberger of course. We did everything we could not to buy too much into the "savior" hype in the season, but there was no way to escape the expectations people had for him. But overall, he had a very uneven 2012. He started out fairly well, had a pretty brutal October swoon and then surged through November with his best performances, including a very strong day versus Alabama (split stats here). A disappointing bowl game kind of put a damper on things, especially when there was a chance to win the game with a fairly simple roll-out play, and he couldn't connect (regardless of whether it was a smart play-call, the fact remains that if the pass is completed to Jarvis Landry, LSU runs the clock out and wins that game). But he still, ultimately, represented an upgrade to LSU's quarterback play compared to recent seasons. He distributed the ball and got through reads correctly, and his 7.4 yards per attempt was the highest figure any LSU quarterback has compiled in more than 200 pass attempts since Jamarcus Russell's amazing 9.1 figure in 2006. To borrow Poseur's metric, his ATVSQBPI was 5.87. It was well below the SEC average, but it largely improved over the regular season, before dipping again versus Clemson.

So let's break him down, starting with his positives:
His arm strength was as good as advertised. Mettenberger excelled when it came to the power throws -- routes like the slant, out and comebacks, even to the sideline from the far hash mark. He drove his balls in with zip and accuracy, and that really gave the LSU staff some freedom to attack the entire field in the intermediate passing game. That's no small luxury for any team, nevermind one that has really struggled to throw the ball in recent seasons. The ability is there to make every throw with timing and accuracy, and at times, Mettenberger showed special ability with regards to fitting the football into some difficult windows.

Accuracy & decision making. Neither were sterling, but overall, Mettenberger rarely had many "what the hell was that?" throws. He was smart with the ball and usually found his outlets over taking stupid chances with the ball. His passes were generally pretty catchable, not that his receivers helped him out much. I've never been able to put a hard number on the dropped passes from last season, but it's worth pointing out that if you take away 10 of them, Mettenberger's completion rate jumps up to 61 percent. Yeah, every quarterback has to deal with drops, and maybe this is just me, but I'd wager LSU had more than the typical share last year.

He's one tough son of a bitch. He could be accused of a number of things, including unfocused at times (see the Ron Burgundy getup for the Towson game), but nobody could question Mettenberger's ability to stand in the pocket in the face of a stiff pass-rush. LSU had plenty of protection issues involving the shuffling offensive line, and Mett himself wasn't always great at feeling it, but he never had a problem making throws with linemen in his face, or picking himself up off the ground following a big shot.

Most importantly, he improved as the season went on. A rough bowl game obscured some real improvement by Mettenberger in the last month of the regular season. It was clear early on that the coaching staff clearly believed in his ability to throw, sometimes more than fans for analysts might have thought wise, and that patience was paid off by playmaking performances versus Alabama, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Not perfect by any stretch, but he made plays when it mattered and showed progress -- driving those intermediate throws we talked about before and keeping the chains moving.

But he struggled with:
Road games. On the road, Mettenberger never seemed to find a rhythm. He completed just over half of his throws for a pathetic 5.7 yards per attempt. Whether it was the hostile crowd, or the change in routine, he never seemed to find a way to focus through the distractions, and it clearly affected the consistency of his passing mechanics.

Pocket presence. Part of the reason Mettenberger took so many sacks were his own problems reading the blitz and feeling pressure. From the corner blitz that rocked him versus North Texas to the game-changing sack-fumble at Auburn, Mettenberger has to manage his internal clock better. Yes, the line was a problem and I'm sure he was aware of that, but the two examples I just cited were times when he has to find his pressure read and unload. Later on, LSU ran a lot more seven- and eight-man protections and it still didn't help, as Mettenberger would try to stay with a play rather than unloading the ball out of bounds, which is exactly the play on a two- or three-receiver concept if the play doesn't open quickly.

Throwing on the move. This was a bit of a surprise. In last year's spring game, Mettenberger made some fantastic throws on the move, but when the regular season came around he looked a bit like a deer foal taking his first steps -- awkward and unsure of himself. This seemed to improve, as he hit a couple of throws off of bootlegs in the Alabama game, but sure enough, when it came down to a short pass to Landry in the bowl game, the pass was air-mailed. There's probably a ceiling on how much this can really improve, but I don't think Mettenberger is a Marino-esque statue back there.

And of course, there was throwing the deep ball. This was another obvious one. The majority of Mettenberger's downfield passing attempts always seemed to miss their mark slightly. Usually just by a yard or two. Some of that, without a doubt, was due to not having a bigger target that could really go up and get the ball, but some of it goes on the quarterback as well. My personal theory is that this had a lot to do with a similar issue to what the receivers dealt with: pressing. As for fixing it...

3. So where does Mettenberger go from here? His supporting cast should be more consistent, his receiving corps should have a little more size as well. And of course, there's expectation that Cam Cameron will bring a steadier hand to the playcalling controls. To a degree, a lot of the issues he had could easily be tied to his inexperience. The guy was a first-time starter whose only appreciable experience beforehand came in junior college. And what's more, he hit the field with "savior" expectations from most of the Tiger fan base. With some natural progression, you'd expect to see him better understand exactly what his position entails in terms of focus and preparation, especially for road games. Additionally, he needs to, frankly, relax. At least on the field. A big part of his problems in 2012 felt like pressing to make every play count, and at times, I wonder if Mettenberger's attempt at a stoic demeanor on the sidelines was more him bearing the weight of his expectations. Sometimes it manifested in staying with a play too long, taking a sack. Sometimes it was gripping the ball too tight and trying to aim it perfectly into a receiver's hands, resulting in a missed deep throw. Downfield passing is about loft and putting the ball into an area that the target can get to, not about dropping the perfect raindrop into his hands. If Mettenberger can learn to maybe loosen his grip on the ball slightly, he might just get a better hold on this offense and how to make it the dangerous weapon LSU fans have been praying to see for so long.

4. The No. 2 spot on the depth chart has proven to be a bit more interesting of a competition than one would have guessed coming in. True freshman Anthony Jennings appears to be really pushing sophomore Stephen Rivers for the job. Jennings has excelled in the recent scrimmages with both his hands and his feet, and there's been some talk that he may see the field through some option and other run-packaged plays. My best guess would still be that Rivers likely would be the true backup in case of injury, but the faster Jennings pushes for playing time, the more likely he'll eventually take the second spot away from Rivers full time. This should be one of the more interesting sub-plots of the spring game on Saturday.

5. Behind those two are Jennings' classmate Rettig and the former Penn State refugee Bolden. The former, as of now, may be looking at a redshirt. From most practice reports, videos and even his high school film, you can clearly see that the early enrolling Angelino has a big arm, but doesn't seem to totally have a handle on touch and accuracy yet. And that's okay -- he's not likely to be needed this season, and getting some space between he and Jennings isn't exactly a bad idea. Bolden was essentially brought in to give last year's team a little extra veteran depth, but an injury got in the way of that, resulting in a redshirt year. He's still rehabbing this spring, which likely means he'll be securely fifth in the pecking order for now. That could possibly change come August, but I wouldn't expect to see much out of Bolden this fall.