Long before Zach Mettenberger will ever have the chance to look over the middle for Odell Beckham Jr. on a crossing route this season, the quarterback and the receiver did what so many in Louisiana do when it’s time to get down to business.
They got something to eat.
Not just Mettenberger and Beckham. The nights at this round table include seats for all of LSU’s receivers, the theory being the offense that eats together will form a tighter bond together.
It’s all about building a better passing game through chemistry, Beckham said. And speaking of passing, pass the steak sauce.
“We’re all best friends,” Mettenberger said Wednesday at Southeastern Conference Media Days in Hoover, Ala. “We all hang out. We try to go out to dinner once a week to build camaraderie, so any moment in the game I can basically read their minds in what they’re trying to do.
“I think it’s going to help us out in the long run.”
No word on whether the receivers fight over picking up the check to better curry favor with their new quarterback.
The two biggest questions about LSU’s passing game going into the season are 1) Can Mettenberger live up to the nearly outrageous expectations being heaped way up high on the 6-foot-5 junior’s shoulders? and 2) Who will prove to be Zach’s “go-to” receiver?
As a true freshman, Beckham built his standing as one of LSU’s top targets.
He played in all 14 games, starting nine, with 41 receptions for 475 yards and two touchdowns. With Rueben Randle now preparing for his rookie season with the New York Giants, Beckham is the Tigers’ top returning pair of hands in the receiver corps.
Before he made his mark during the season, however, Beckham and Mettenberger started cooking in practice, when Mettenberger was the third-string quarterback behind then seniors Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee.
“I’d usually be the third receiver to go,” said Beckham, one of just two sophomores invited to SEC Media Days. “That would mean Zach would come up. So Zach and I have always had this chemistry with each other.”
Beckham quickly developed a bond with first Lee and then Jefferson last season, but Beckham said it was much more difficult than it will be when Mettenberger the undisputed starting quarterback going into 2012.
“With two quarterbacks, it’s hard to keep a balance between them,” Beckham explained. “With Zach, when you have one quarterback you’re focusing on, it’s a little easier to get chemistry with him.
“Not to knock those two quarterbacks. They’re system quarterbacks and they had been in the system longer than him and had more experience. But there’s not too many quarterbacks I’ve seen who throw the ball like Zach does. That’s just the way he is.”
Their connection was on display early last season, if only briefly.
Mettenberger was 8-of-11 passing for 92 yards and a touchdown last season, all of those attempts coming in a relief effort in LSU’s 49-3 victory in Week 2 over Northwestern State. Mettenberger threw four times in Beckham’s direction, completing three passes for a total of 20 yards.
In this year’s Spring Game on March 31, Tigers fans got perhaps a better glimpse of what the Mettenberger-Beckham combination will be like.
Mettenberger threw his first touchdown pass of that game to Beckham — a long, arching 49-yard spiral — and ended up completing three passes to him for 115 yards (Jarvis Landry led the White team with six catches for 120). Mettenberger later hit Beckham with a 53-yard strike that helped set up a 19-yard touchdown pass to senior Russell Shepard.
Many have wondered if LSU will indeed stretch out the passing game with Mettenberger stirring the pot.
Beckham guarantees that he will.
“He’s a gutsy guy,” Beckham said. “He’ll take those shots deep, and he’ll live with the results.
“He has one of the strongest arms I’ve seen. He’s ready to show his skills.”
The season doesn’t begin until Sept. 1 against North Texas, but with the prospect of Mettenberger throwing to Beckham and the rest of LSU’s receivers, Tigers fans are no doubt ready to ask for the check.