Zach Mettenberger hasn’t played a down of football since the exhibition season in 2016.
That was back when the former LSU standout was a backup with the San Diego Chargers. He completed two of his eight pass attempts. A month later, he was released, making him like so many other former college stars who can’t thrive on the pro level.
On Saturday, Mettenberger was the starting quarterback for the West team, playing the opener for the Spring League at Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex.
He celebrated nearly every play he made in his team’s 30-13 victory over the East squad. It didn’t matter that it was 40 degrees and that the wind was blowing so hard from the north that it pushed at least one punt backward.
“Couldn’t tell I had fun, right?” Mettenberger joked. “Man, I just miss being out there, getting hit, hitting — that’s what we grew up living for. I just love it. There’s nothing better.”
In the second game of the double header, the North team knocked off the South, 11-7. Former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who plays for the South, dazzled on a handful of plays, but was sacked four times.
The Spring League exists for second chances. Most every player was on a college team, whether he competed for a squad in the Power Five or on the NCAA Division III level.
The majority of those who have been practicing in far Northwest Austin have at least spent a few weeks in the NFL, whether they were drafted or signed to a free-agent contract and participated in a training camp.
Now, they’re hoping that the Spring League will allow them enough exposure to make another NFL team. Or maybe a player will catch the eye of a CFL scout. There were representatives of 15 NFL teams in attendance Saturday. Scouts also have watched practices, which started in late March. The league will end Thursday with another doubleheader.
The Tennessee Titans picked Mettenberger in the sixth round of the 2014 draft. He started 10 games in three seasons. His NFL career ended with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was inactive for 12 of the 16 regular-season games and all of the playoff contests. His job was to back up Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones. Then he was waived. There are always younger quarterbacks to fill the third spot on the depth chart.
Mettenberger continued to work out in hopes of getting another shot at the pros.
Then he heard about the Spring League because it was getting so much attention after signing Manziel.
“Johnny hyped it up so much I called up my agent and said ‘get me in it,’ ” Mettenberger said. The league “wasn’t very big last year, but having a former Heisman winner in this game in Austin, Texas, near where he’s from, it’s going to get a lot of attention. Hopefully people watch.”
Manziel was the starting quarterback in the second game Saturday. He led the South to its only touchdown. His best play was the score. He scrambled to his right to avoid the rush, then threw it to former Baylor standout Antwan Goodley for the two-yard touchdown.
Manziel completd 8 of his 16 passes for 79 yards. He was sacked four times, including on a fourth-and-one that sealed the win for the North.
Eyes here for Manziel were also good for Mettenberger, who was 5 of 8 for 31 yards in his game. Mettenberger ended his day with a touchdown on a 1-yard sneak up the middle. He called his own plays while in the game, and then he helped the other quarterbacks. It all should help his quest to get back to the pros.