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Quarterback Maintenance: Zach Attack

Zen and the Art of Insomnia

Zach Mettenberger, King of the Seams
Zach Mettenberger, King of the Seams
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Can we change who we are? I don't think so. I've been making the same mistakes in relationships since I started having intimate relationships. I'm not good at it and I'm not getting any better. I'm at a point right now, where I've made some awful decisions that have put some of my relationships, intimate or otherwise, in jeopardy. I spend the night tossing and turning in bed, thoughts rushing around this little brain of mine, trying to take back some of the things I've done or said and then at about 4 am every night I vow to make changes for the better in the future. Will those changes ever manifest itself in real life or will they stay locked away, out of reach, as I lie in bed contemplating my future. I often feel as if I will continue to head down the same metaphorical roads that I've always been down. Lather, rinse, repeat for eternity. How do we change as humans? How do we change as quarterbacks?

My idea for this article was to look at Zach Mettenberger in 2012 and 2013, see where he made improvements over his one offseason as LSU starting QB and then possibly relate that Brandon Harris going into the 2016 season. Here's the problem: Zach was already really good in 2012. Trying to compare Mettenberger's first season as a starter against Harris' is mostly futile. Harris, as we know, struggled often this past season. Whether it was with his accuracy, timing or reads, he could never get into a rhythm. Even in what looked like good wins, Harris was just average like at Mississippi State. Mettenberger was the opposite. In bad losses like at Florida in 2012, he was still pretty solid. Did Mettenberger do everything well? Far from it. Still, when we look back retroactively, we're watching a quarterback who would go on to start 10 games over 2 seasons in the NFL and it shows. The narrative said that Mettenberger changed drastically to become the quarterback we saw in 2013 and I don't think that's all that true. He got better just as anyone would with another year of playing the position under his belt but it wasn't a major change.

The first thing that stands out when watching Mettenberger's film is the amount of drops by receivers that he had to deal with. There must have been over 30 drops in 2012 alone. Odell Beckham hadn't yet become the elite receiver we know and remember, and dropped a few passes -- each game. This hurt Mettenberger's overall numbers tremendously. Also in 2012, Jarvis Landry hadn't yet emerged as a star player although Kadron Boone was a very serviceable number one option.

Mettenberger had the ability to read a defense and get through his progressions and even find checkdown receivers. He would, however, sometimes force the ball into Landry and Beckham (especially in 2013) instead of finding other open receivers. He was more than adequate in the pocket and had a very strong arm. His throwing motion was pretty bad and it caused him to miss receivers more often than you'd like, especially on in breaking routes. Conversely, he was pretty spectacular on out breaking routes. There are a lot of routes that LSU didn't let Brandon Harris throw in 2015 like back shoulder fades and wide side deep comebacks that the coaching staff allowed Mettenberger to throw regularly. He was very adept at those routes.

Where Mettenberger needed refinement

As noted, most in-breaking routes were not his strong point. I believe that his slow throwing motion led him to throw behind receivers on a lot of slant, dig and square-in routes. This isn't to say that they were Brandon Harris level bad throws, either. Mettenberger threw the ball on time to open receivers, the accuracy was just a behind them. They were catchable balls sure, but we'd obviously like our quarterbacks to throw in front of receivers.

He tended to throw slants low and away from receivers. I don't know if this was on purpose, though. Most slants are covered pretty tightly so if you throw it low and away, the defender isn't going to have a chance on the football. Additionally, if you have elite receivers, they're going to go get the ball for you more often than not. You're going to get the completion, you just aren't going to have any run after the catch.

When it came to deeper in breaking routes. He struggled to hit the receiver in stride consistently. Throwing behind receivers on dig routes, I can tell you, is not by design.

His worst throws definitely came on deep routes like posts and fades. He was pretty abysmal in 2012 on these throws although he did get better in 2013. I wish I had a good answer as to why he kept overthrowing people but I really don't. His receivers were good enough to get over top of any coverage and Mettenberger kept missing them.

Where Mettenberger was MONEY

Mettenberger was absolutely fearless throwing into the seams. His accuracy was beautiful and he threw back shoulder seam routes like he was the college equivalent of Drew Brees.

Brees made a living throwing back shoulder seams to Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham because even though the coverage was tight, you're generally going to get a trailing defender on a seam route who is focused on the receiver and not the ball. Throw it to the back shoulder and let your receiver go get the ball. Mettenberger was the same way with Jarvis Landry. Sure, the coverage isn't as tight as it is in the NFL but these throws were still beauties. The problem with seam routes is that when a team is in cover 1 or cover 3, they know as well as you do that the seam is the vacated area so they try to squeeze the window from underneath to get you to throw a higher arcing ball to place where the middle of the field safety has a chance to make a play on it. Putting the ball to the back shoulder eliminates this and not many quarterbacks can do it.

In the same vein, he threw the back shoulder fade very well too. He would put the ball in a place where his great receivers could go get it. With the speed of Landry and Beckham. There were a few touchdown passes on back shoulder fades from the goalline/redzone but they would also throw them anywhere on the field.

Another great route that takes advantage of a quarterback with a big arm and receivers with blazing speed is the deep comeback. In the NFL, the window to throw this pass is miniscule, but in college you have slightly more time to hit it before the defender breaks on the ball. This is one of those routes that the coaching staff didn't let Brandon Harris throw often and, if my memory serves me correctly only had one completion on it in 2015 (to Dupre @ Syracuse). I just don't think the coaching staff trusted him. Mettenberger was definitely entrusted with this route and he throw it very nicely.

Last but not least we're his throws on outs, speed outs and stick routes. LSU ran a lot of double out routes, trying to pick on the flat defender and Mettenberger rarely made a bad read or threw the ball inaccurately. Out routes are tough to routes to defend. Most defenses try to take away everything to the interior and "give" you all flat routes. This is the Nick Saban school of defense. They don't think college quarterbacks can consistently hit these routes to worry them. Mettenberger could.

Going back and rewatching the offense from 2012 and 2013 made me sad that we'll never see the trio of Mettenberger, Landry and Beckham suit up for the Tigers ever again. Such is the fleeting nature of college sports. Here one day, gone the next. Or if your Ben Simmons: here one day, gone that same day.

Change is easy to imagine but hard to actually come by. The study of human behavior is the study of patterns. For Brandon Harris to break that and become the quarterback that LSU needs will be a struggle because looking to find evidence in Mettenberger's play for answers seems to be mostly futile.