It didn’t take Cam Cameron long to decide that he had a special talent in Zach Mettenberger.
It was the second scrimmage of spring football down in Baton Rouge last March. Cameron had just joined Les Miles’ coaching staff at LSU after a five-year stint with the Baltimore Ravens and was getting one of his first intimate looks at the weapons he would have at his disposal in his first season as offensive coordinator. Mettenberger made a strong impression, rifling touchdown after touchdown in the scrimmage.
“You could really see the arm talent. He’s a big, imposing guy,” Cameron said in a phone interview Tuesday. “He might have thrown double-digit touchdowns. That was the first of those moments. … I remember telling Les, ‘This guy’s a winner. We’re going to win with this guy.’ And it turned out that way.”
A year later, Cameron is marveling at Mettenberger again, though the circumstances are much different. The 22-year-old will participate in quarterback drills at LSU’s pro day today, a little over three months after he had surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament he shredded in his left knee.
The Vikings are one of a handful of a quarterback-needy NFL teams that are eager to see where Mettenberger stands in his recovery and to get a closer look at Mettenberger’s powerful right arm.
“He’s come as far in a short period as any guy I’ve ever seen. He just had an ACL injury and he is going to have a full workout tomorrow. He is 85 or 90 percent and he’s throwing the ball extremely well,” said Cameron, who will lead Mettenberger’s workout today. “But [the injury] was tough on him.”
When Mettenberger suffered the injury in a win over Arkansas on Nov. 29, he was wrapping up a breakout senior season in which he completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns. He averaged 10.4 yards per attempt and his 171.4 passer rating ranked fourth in the country, trailing Florida State's Jameis Winston, Baylor's Bryce Petty and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.
Mettenberger didn’t sulk after suffering the devastating knee injury. Cameron said he was heavily involved in the preparation for the Outback Bowl and helped tutor freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings before LSU’s win over Iowa. He then had surgery on Jan. 2 and started to attack his rehab.
Despite the injury and concerns about his elongated delivery, lack of mobility and decision-making, Mettenberger is viewed as a second-day prospect by many draft analysts because of his prototypical size -- he is 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds -- and his arm strength. And if he has a good workout today on that rebuilt left knee, he could come of the board between Minnesota’s eighth and 40th overall picks.
The Vikings have legitimate interest in Mettenberger, according to two league sources, and general manager Rick Spielman, coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner -- who had Cameron on his Washington Redskins staff two decades ago and helped shape some of Cameron's offensive philosophies -- will meet with Mettenberger privately after his pro day, something they have done with other top quarterback prospects.
At some point, they will surely ask Mettenberger about the circumstances that led him to LSU.
Before his freshman season started at Georgia, Mettenberger was dismissed from the program after an incident at a bar in which he was charged with underage possession of alcohol, disorderly conduct and misdemeanor sexual battery, amongst other charges. The alcohol-related charges would be dismissed, but Mettenberger pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sexual battery. He spent the 2010 season at Butler Community College in Kansas before transferring to LSU for the 2011 season.
“He’s had some adversity in his life, which is a good thing,” Cameron said. “No one wants to go through an ACL, but he’s kind of wired to attack things that are difficult. He hasn’t had it easy growing up. He had some adversity at Georgia. I think all of those things have helped him mature.”
Last year, Cameron compared Mettenberger to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who led the Ravens to the Super Bowl in 2012 (after Cameron was replaced by Jim Caldwell late in the regular season). On Tuesday, Cameron said that Mettenberger’s arm strength still reminds him of Flacco. He added that Mettenberger has toughness like Jim Harbaugh. He said his work ethic and competitiveness reminds him of Drew Brees. And he noted that Mettenberger has big hands like Antwaan Randle El.
“He’s weather-proof,” he said. “Teams in the AFC and NFC North are really going to like his guy.”
Obviously, Cameron is a bit biased -- if you couldn't tell by the big names that he just dropped -- but he believes Mettenberger is worthy of a high draft pick.
“He’s a guy you can win a championship with. And that’s all that matters,” Cameron said. “Is he better than a lot of guys who have gone in the first round? Absolutely. Does that mean he’s a first-round draft pick? Depends on how a team views him.”
We won’t know just how favorably the Vikings view him until next month’s NFL draft.