COLUMN: Mett's growth still a mystery

TSD's Ben Love examines how the hype machine surrounding LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger makes it hard to tell how much he's actually improving.

So, just how good has Zach Mettenberger been this spring?

The real answer, unless you've been behind closed doors and locked fences for the duration of every practice and scrimmage, is there's no way to tell. Literally an impossible discovery task.

Part of it is because of the campaign LSU runs for the returning senior quarterback.

It's no new development for Sports Information types to do this for big-name Tiger players, but, in my opinion, the over-flattery has reached its zenith this spring, finally matching the stats on steroids Les Miles has doled out from spring and Fall Camp scrimmages for years.

Take into account the headlines spun by LSU for the team's three scrimmage this spring. Scrimmage One: "Mettenberger shines in first scrimmage of spring for LSU." Scrimmage Two: "Mettenberger and Rasco shine during LSU's second scrimmage." Scrimmage Three: "Mettenberger, offense shine during LSU scrimmage."

Redundancy aside, there's one pretty consistent message LSU is putting forth – Whatever portion of the sun reaches the Charles McClendon Practice Facility, it usually tends to find its way to No. 8 and reflect off him.

Part of it, as referenced earlier, is because of the skewed stats.

Skewed at least partially because of the amount of plays run, where they're run from (red zone and goal line situations lead to more touchdowns, for example) and whom they're run against (occasionally the first-team offense does go against the second-team defense). They could also be partially skewed because, well, Miles can basically say whatever he wants in those post-scrimmage pressers, and the reporters in attendance will gladly lap it up as if manna has fallen from the sky.

Here are the numbers on Mettenberger given by Miles through three scrimmages this spring. Scrimmage One: 20-of-30 for 200 yards and 2 TD, including a 35-yard TD. Scrimmage Two: 21-of-35 for 247 yards and 1 TD. Scrimmage Three: 15-of-26 for 276 yards and 6 TD, including three from 36 yards or farther.

Per those stats, Mettenberger is completing 61.5% of his passes for an average of 241 yards and three touchdowns an outing. Just for a frame of reference, for the 2012 season, Mettenberger connected on 58.8% of his passes for an average of 200.7 yards per game and just shy of one touchdown per contest (12 TD tosses in 13 games).

Then, finally, there are Miles' words for Mettenberger's performances. They are almost always flattering and indicative that the player was good, sometimes great, but imperfect. Their script rarely changes.

Following Scrimmage One: "(Mettenberger) made a couple of intuitive throws today. He saw things very quickly and got the ball out of his hand. Guys anticipated the catch and down the field it went. He looked good and 20-of-30 to start is really nice."

Following Scrimmage Two: "The offense is much improved, but we just have to eliminate those fundamental things. I think we have talented players who can make big plays. The quarterback is throwing the ball better, but we have to improve on the little things."

Following Scrimmage Three: "I thought we had good effort on both sides of the ball and the offense continues to getter better. Zach is playing with a lot of confidence."

Like the story headlines and statistics before them, these quotes serve one fundamental purpose – They make things appear as if sunshine and rainbows follow Mettenberger and blue birds sit on his shoulder chirping songs of joy.

They also, to those who reside outside the circle of LSU employment, cloud any realistic judgment or assessment possible of Mettenberger.

Does he look more like the player who repeatedly took sacks in the beginning of the 2012 season and often overthrew open receivers deep? Or does he look more like the one who gutted Alabama and Mississippi State in consecutive weeks, throwing for a combined 571 yards and three touchdowns?

The answer echoes the one that best belongs to the question at the beginning of the column, only the most common inquiry on the Bayou the past month: "Dunno."

That Mettenberger is making strides in understanding and executing new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's system is obvious. Even in the opening 20 minutes of each practice, during the individual drills made available to the media, his progression is clear to the eye. He's barking out the new cadence with no hesitation, throwing hard, crisp balls and seemingly taking well to constructive criticism and fresh terminology.

Beyond that, though, there's just not much to report definitively. A lot of the outlets doing so are merely parroting the information provided them by a branch of the LSU program.

The truth is nobody's likely to know just how much Mettenberger has improved until the lights come on in Jerry World early in the evening of August 31.

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