Harris: Zach Mettenberger misses a chance to show his growth

Scanning the cramped interview space at John L. Guidry Stadium, it was easy to detect LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger’s absence simply by physical stature.

By virtue of standing 6-foot-5, his height, mop of brown hair and ever-interesting facial hair stylings would have made the senior easy to spot at the Manning Passing Academy. Yet there wasn’t a sheet of paper taped to the wall with his name printed on it.

After trekking to Thibodaux last season, the senior passed on a return invite, apparently saddled with academic work back in Baton Rouge. Noble, indeed. But with six fellow Southeastern Conference quarterbacks working on the sweltering fields at Nicholls State, Mettenberger’s absence seemed palpable.

Seeing Mettenberger in the same confines would at least have offered confirmation of his efforts to put himself on the same plane as the conference’s elite passers. Yet no one knows how offseason throwing sessions with Jarvis Landry are unfolding or how much time Mettenberger spends filling a notebook with insights from new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

Imprecise and inaccurate as it might be, watching Mettenberger tutor pupils and answer questions would have offered some implicit hint at the off the field progress in growing further into the role as LSU’s quarterback.

And, according to CBS’ Gary Danielson, Mettenberger’s talent alone is an entry pass to keep company with Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s AJ McCarron and Georgia’s Aaron Murray.

“You could pretty much throw them in to a barrel,” Danielson said.

Wringing hands and gnashing teeth over LSU’s sporadic passing attack last season abated somewhat with the February hiring of Cameron and a spring game when Mettenberger notched six completions of 15-plus yards.

His ugly start aside, Danielson points to the quarterback’s outing against Alabama — “He proved he could play with anybody,” Danielson said — as a point when Mettenberger finally acclimated to the brutal environs of the SEC West. In his final five starts, the junior-college transfer threw for 1,190 yards, completed 61.5 percent of his passes and compiled a respectable 133.4 quarterback rating.

“It’s harder for a guy like Mettenberger when the team has had so much recent success, and you have to walk in and lead it,” Danielson said. “There’s going to be some natural growth from what he did last year.”

Yet the analyst didn’t spare the criticism.

“He coasts sometimes,” Danielson said. “If he perceives it’s not a big game or not an elite opponent or not an important part of practice, he can daydream. He needs to learn to go 100 percent of the time.”

Unfair or illogical as it might be, Mettenberger being absent when he could have been alongside the game’s elite arms might leave it open to interpretation whether he’s holding himself to that standard.

“He’s a non-conformist, but he’s proved that he’s tough,” Danielson said. “Sometimes he likes to needle people but, at his core, he wants to win.”

So the wait continues, until Thursday at SEC Media Days, to see it in person.