NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Zach Mettenberger knows exactly what happens when he doesn’t use the proper technique when throwing to his left.
“I throw picks to the other team,” the Titans rookie quarterback said Wednesday.
Mettenberger quickly took blame for his pass to the left sideline Monday night picked off by a Steelers cornerback and returned for a touchdown, just an example of how he readily steps up for mistakes even when he could point a finger elsewhere. That accountability is what teammates want in their quarterback as a telling point of how someone reacts under pressure.
“Any mistake a receiver or a tight end makes they’re going to blame it on the quarterback, and he understands that,” tight end Delanie Walker said. “For him not to go pointing fingers, that’s what you need in a quarterback. He’s a leader in the making.”
Mettenberger credits Cam Cameron, his offensive coordinator at LSU, with teaching him to handle the responsibility that goes along with being quarterback, including shouldering the blame.
“I can take it,” Mettenberger said. “I’ve been in a lot of situations in my life where it wasn’t looking good for me, so I’d rather take the blame than maybe some guy who can’t mentally handle it and put him in a jar.”
That kind of leadership is why the Titans turned to Mettenberger last month as their starting quarterback as they try to determine if the sixth-round draft pick out of LSU can be their quarterback into the future. So far the results have been mixed from the strong-armed rookie already dubbed CannonBerger by former college teammate Odell Beckham Jr., now with the New York Giants.
Three starts into his NFL career, Mettenberger already has the best passer rating among four rookies who have started this season, but he wants a win more even as the Titans are rallying around their rookie. Blake Bortles of Jacksonville and Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater already have won as starters.
“I’ve got to keep working,” Mettenberger said. “I’ve yet to get a win, and really that’s the most important thing. And it’s kind of eating at me.”
So far, Mettenberger is throwing the ball well enough. He has completed 61.9 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and four interceptions, and he had his best throw of the season Monday night hitting wide receiver Nate Washington in stride for an 80-yard touchdown. He’s also becoming more comfortable with people falling at his feet leaving even less space in the pocket.
The rookie also stepped in at one of the tougher stretches in the schedule with games at Baltimore and Monday night against Pittsburgh. Now the Titans prepare to visit Philadelphia (7-3), and Eagles coach Chip Kelly has been impressed by Mettenberger’s arm and ability to stand in the pocket.
“He doesn’t seem to be affected by the rush,” Kelly said on a conference call. “Sometimes you worry about that with a young quarterback. Is he going to look at the rush or look down the field and try to complete the ball? He stands in there and throws the ball and delivers it. I think they’re giving him a little bit more as the games go along, as he starts to kind of pile up some experience there.”
Mettenberger went from being sacked five times at Baltimore on Nov. 9 to not being sacked once by the Steelers. Whisenhunt said Mettenberger is doing a nice job handling protections and changing plays at the line keeping everyone on the same page. Throwing the ball faster also helped. Teammates noticed with a number of players talking to the rookie after the game.
“I think that’s an indication of leadership,” Whisenhunt said.
Mettenberger also talked briefly with one of his big role models in Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and the rookie said Big Ben had a lot of encouraging words for him.
“For him to take time there and talk to me was a really big deal for me,” Mettenberger said.
TE Delanie Walker (concussion) said he was knocked out for a couple minutes when hurt Nov. 9. He is expected to be cleared by a doctor Thursday after the Titans decided Sunday not to play him against Pittsburgh. ... The Titans had a light practice Wednesday and didn’t even wear helmets. WR Justin Hunter (knee) was limited with CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson (back). DB Marqueston Huff (hamstring) did not practice. S Daimion Stafford (shoulder) practiced fully.