ATLANTA -- The time between a player's last college game and the NFL draft is hectic for any prospect, particularly a quarterback and particularly a quarterback who's coming off of a serious injury.
That's exactly where former LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger finds himself.
Instead of simply preparing for the draft, his focus is pulled in a variety of directions, including rehab from a torn ACL suffered late in November in his final regular-season game, convincing NFL teams that he's ready to handle the off-the-field pressures that come with being a face of a franchise and simply becoming better as a quarterback.
Mettenberger, who has been working out in New Jersey at the TEST Football Academy, traveled to Bristol, Conn., in early March to make a run through the ESPN "car wash," then back down to Atlanta—where I caught up with him—for a taping of the Fox Sports South show The Panel.
Just how exhausting has the offseason been for Mettenberger?
"It hasn't been too bad," he said. "Obviously being a quarterback in the SEC is a pretty prolific deal, so I'm used to the media and used to traveling for games and SEC media days and all of that stuff. It's just like another day for me. It's fun getting to see a bunch of places that I haven't seen. I got to go to ESPN, come here to Fox Sports and meet a bunch of great people along the way."
Four of those great people were waiting for him on the set of The Panel in Atlanta. Former Auburn linebacker Takeo Spikes, former Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch, former Michigan State linebacker Julian Peterson and former Miami/current Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen peppered Mettenberger with questions on the status of his rehab and his style as a quarterback and took him through an NFL-style film study in a four-hour taping.
But before he sat down with The Panel, he had to get made up.
"Gotta make sure I have the best hair in the draft," Mettenberger said.
"Like White Goodman?" I asked, referencing Ben Stiller's character in Dodgeball.
"Yep. Feathered and lethal," he fired back with ease.
Nerves? Not with Metteberger.
In fact, he views this as an opportunity.
"Between the four of them, a lot of football has been played," he said. "I'm going to try and pick every one of their brains as much as I can off-camera when we're not rolling. To be in a room with guys of that pedigree, it's really humbling to be in front of them. I don't know how to be a pro yet, and I'm getting the chance here to meet with some guys who know how to be fantastic pros."
He walked into the studio for a five-minute meeting with The Panel. That meeting consisted mostly of standard first-meeting chit-chat and about a minute of real football talk, including Mettenberger's desire to emphasize just how ready he is for a pro-style offense.
"A lot of people don't realize that it takes a lot to stand in and deliver the ball on time when the pressure is coming," Mettenberger said to Couch. "Some guys can bail and get a first down with their legs, but it's not easy to stand in and deliver the ball on time and to know when a guy is going to come open."
It didn't take long for Mettenberger to win over the panelists. In fact, it only took about five minutes of introductory chit-chat—most of which centered around football X's and O's that would make any NFL veteran turn his head.
"That's a really sharp kid," Olsen said as Mettenberger exited the studio.
That's it. That's all the prep Mettenberger needed. He was ushered out of the studio, did a three-minute standup reality-television style and waltzed into the studio for the real thing like a true pro.
Once the red light goes on, the panelists and Mettenberger got down to business. At the top of everyone's mind was his recovery from his torn ACL.
"I'm kind of starting from scratch," he told Spikes. "My upper-body mechanics are the same because I've been throwing, but I have to take baby steps in order to get back to being an explosive five- and seven-step drop guy. I can work on narrowing my base a little bit, having a shorter stride and being lighter on my feet so when a guy does fall on my leg, I'm able to get my feet out from under."
Behind the scenes, he was upbeat about the progress of his rehab.
"Almost nine weeks out now from surgery, and moving along really fast," he said. "I fully expect to be really far along for pro day [on April 9] to look like I'm not injured, and be 100 percent for rookie camp."
Mettenberger is projected as a high-second-round pick to the Oakland Raiders, according to B/R writer Matt Miller's post-combine mock draft.
Whether it's late in the first round or early in the second, he knows that some team may give him the keys to the franchise, and that's not a responsibility to take lightly.
"There's no other sport and no other position in sports where a 22-year-old kid shows up to a team and he's the leader of the team," he told the panelists. "You have to associate yourself with everybody. You can't just hang out with offensive linemen, receivers or players; you have to be friends with everybody and know everybody. When you know somebody and trust somebody, it's easier to go all out for them."
Mettenberger's episode of The Panel will debut on Fox Sports South on Monday, March 24, at 5:30 p.m. ET.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand.
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