Rabalais: Drama drags on as Zach Mettenberger waits to hear his name called

Johnny Manziel’s slide from potential top pick to 22nd choice by the Cleveland Browns was sudden and mesmerizing.

Zach Mettenberger’s dive through the draft has been like a slow-motion scene from a disaster movie.

Drama tends to follow Zach Mettenberger around like a guy trying to hawk a timeshare. It was that way his entire college career. Why should it be any different now that he’s making the transition to the NFL?

First, of course, was his infamous dismissal from the Georgia program, which led to his three years at LSU after a one-year stint in junior college.

Mentally, Mettenberger appeared to learn from his mistakes at Georgia and was never publicly tied to any shenanigans at LSU, not even the equally infamous Shady’s Bar fight.

The one once called “The Mettsiah” worked his way through a solid if unspectacular junior season, throwing for 2,609 yards and 12 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He immediately dashed any talk of dashing off to the NFL, instead throwing himself into film study and work on footwork and throwing mechanics with then-new LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

Mett was mostly marvelous his senior year. His 3,082 passing yards were the third-most in a season for an LSU quarterback. His quarterback rating of 171.4 was second-best in the Southeastern Conference behind only Manziel.

But Mettenberger’s NFL draft prospects started taking torpedo hits before his senior season even ended.

First there was the sack by Arkansas’ Bryan Jones in LSU’s regular-season finale that tore Mettenberger’s ACL and forced him to miss the Outback Bowl. It also may have knocked him out of the draft’s first round, according to a couple of NFL personnel sources quoted by NFL.com. He missed the NFL combine but did get to show off his arm at LSU’s pro day in April.

Then came news earlier this week that Mettenberger’s urine sample had been red-flagged by several teams for being diluted, though no illegal substances were found. It sent up red flags with Cameron, who alleged conspiracy on someone’s part:

“NFL teams do their due diligence,” Cameron said Wednesday at the Baton Rouge stop on this year’s LSU Tiger Tour. “That information tells you a little bit about the guy who released the story, number one, and the way the media works today. That information has been out for 30 days. It’s been out for a while and then to strategically, I guess, announce it at this time just goes to show what the motive was. It was either a selfish motivation for that person individually or it was a message sent by somebody who wanted to see their quarterback above him.

“We know Zach. I’m pretty worked up. Zach Mettenberger is our guy, one of the great quarterbacks to ever play, and he’s got mine and (coach Les Miles’) and the program’s backing 100 percent. For the teams that know, it’s a non-issue. The teams that didn’t do their homework are scrambling now to try to clarify some things, and we’ll see if they can get that done.”

So, OK, the first-round was a no-go, but surely some team believes in Mettenberger at least nearly as much as Cameron does, and they draft him Friday in the second or third round, right?

Second round, the only quarterbacks taken were Derek Carr from Fresno State and somebody named Jimmy Garoppolo from Eastern Illinois, a pick so obscure he’d never heard of himself.

Third round: crickets. You get the picture.

Apparently, the NFL debut of The Mett Show was delayed even further Wednesday by reports that he is suffering from a condition called spondylosis, a stress fracture of a vertebra that could cause it to weaken and require surgery to correct.

CBSSports.com reported a trainer who worked with Mettenberger during his late-winter rehab claimed that there were no issues with Mett’s back and that it was an example of the kind of smear campaign to which Cameron alluded.

Deciding what’s true or not when it comes to Mettenberger’s health and urine samples at this point is getting to be a little like reading tax code. But there were whispers about Mett’s back before last season, a subject some of us asked him about at SEC Media Days in July and which he dismissed at the time.

But LSU trainer Jack Marucci told NFL.com that Mettenberger did need treatment for his back condition while he was a Tiger.

“Did it flare up in his career? Yes,” Marucci said. “We would treat it, and he’d be fine. It wasn’t something we thought was a chronic disk or something. He doesn’t need surgery. There’s no surgery for it. This shouldn’t be a big deal as long as you treat it.”

Saturday, some team finally will decide Mettenberger’s talent, his 6-foot-5 frame and the arm that can deliver a sideline pass from the opposite hashmark on a string is worth overlooking the other issues. And in time, he may turn out to be a huge steal for that team.

Then again, it may always be some other drama with Mettenberger. Has been so far.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter at @RabalaisAdv.