Trade Mettenberger? No way. He’s too valuable

Friday, August 28, 2015, Vol. 39, No. 35

Titans quarterbacks Marcus Mariota, left, the rookie starter, and Zach Mettenberger, the second-year backup, are both enjoying preseason success, leaving the team with interesting options.

-- Ap Photo/Mark Humphrey

Not too long ago, the Tennessee Titans quarterback situation was viewed not only as unclear and unsettled but among the worst in the NFL.

The Titans had swung and missed twice on first-round quarterbacks in Vince Young and Jake Locker. Those types of mistakes are unforgiving and always come home to roost, as the Titans have discovered.

But now, after two preseason games – and yes, it is only preseason so some of the enthusiasm should be tempered – the Titans suddenly seem to be the envy of the league with not one, but two young quarterbacks who appear to be developing into capable starters very early in their careers.

First-round pick Marcus Mariota, the second overall choice in the draft, has drawn rave preseason reviews from coaches, teammates and local media.

And Sunday night, in the home preseason opener, the nation got to see its first real glimpse of what all the Mariota hype is about.

With his cerebral approach to work and his rapid rise as a pocket passer, Mariota by nearly all accounts seems to be on the fast track to quarterback success.

Second-year pro Zach Mettenberger also is drawing raves for his work this preseason, adding subtext to the decision to draft Mariota.

Mettenberger had his moments a year ago as a sixth-round pick, but thanks in part to a shoulder injury, the Titans couldn’t be certain exactly what they had in the former LSU star.

And with Mariota’s ceiling so high, the Titans couldn’t afford to pass on a possible franchise quarterback who could help dig the organization out of its downward spiral.

So as the Titans were falling hard for Mariota, Mettenberger was busy studying and improving his own game, as well as his attitude and approach.

Now, two games into the preseason, national media types are begging quarterback-poor teams like the Jets, Bills and Browns to inquire about what it might take to pry Mettenberger away from the Titans.

The answer to that question should be simple: Not now.

To be certain, the Titans still have huge holes that must be filled on the offensive line and on defense. But the NFL is a quarterback league, and if Mettenberger turns out to be a diamond in the rough, then the Titans have something few, if any, teams in the league have – added stability and comfort at the most important position on the field.

Don’t believe me? Ask the Arizona Cardinals what happened last season when Carson Palmer went down. Or what happened in Dallas when Tony Romo missed a game and Brandon Weeden had to take over.

Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt, who has known NFL life both with good quarterbacks (Kurt Warner, Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger) and bad (Max Hall, Derek Anderson, Matt Leinart), knows as well as anyone how valuable a dependable quarterback or two can be.

“We’re excited about Zach, he’s doing a nice job for us,” Whisenhunt says. “We’re excited about Marcus Mariota. Our whole quarterback group has played very well.

“We’re completing almost 80 percent of our passes in the preseason, which is pretty astounding. So it’s a good problem to have.”

There is no quarterback controversy; the starting job belongs to Mariota. But because of Mettenberger’s emergence, there is now a quarterback complement in Tennessee.

To his credit, Mettenberger seems to have figured out that if he does the right things (something he didn’t always do in college), his time will eventually come. Maybe not in 2015, and maybe not at all as a starter with the Titans.

But someday, even two or three years from now via trade or free agency, that opportunity will be there.

“Right now I’m a Titan, and really that’s all I can worry about,” Mettenberger says. “I’m looking forward to getting back out at practice and continuing to work on my craft.

“Right now, I’m in a position to be the backup, and that’s my job. I’m worried about making sure Marcus is ready to go each and every week, and if anything happens, I’m ready to go in and have everything operate smoothly.

“Really, I’m just worried about making myself better,” he adds.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is a blogger for 247 Sports NFL Insider.