Steelers Squeeze In First-Team Reps For Zach Mettenberger During Bye Week

Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a late bye week, and they used that opportunity to get a good look at some of their bottom of the roster guys. In the wake of that time period, running back Isaiah Pead was released and Fitzgerald Toussaint was promoted to the 53-man roster.

In a short amount of time later, Toussaint passed Jordan Todman on the depth chart and ended up starting two playoff games. He remains on the roster to this day as the third running back, although he has hardly played at all this season. Still, it is a pretty impressive journey for a former undrafted free agent who was the second option for a practice squad running back from another 90-man offseason roster.

During this bye week period, the Steelers are using their extra time—and an injury to starter Ben Roethlisberger—to get a better look at their newest quarterback, third-year former sixth-round draft pick Zach Mettenberger, whom the team claimed off waivers in the waning days of the preseason after they lost Bruce Gradkowski to an injury and were in need of a new third quarterback.

According to Jeremy Fowler for ESPN, the Steelers gave Mettenberger some first-team reps during their two bye week practice sessions. Quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner was interested in getting a look at what he can do, telling reporters, “we said, let’s go, let’s play ball, give Zach an opportunity to throw the ball, not just hand the ball off”.

During regular practice sessions, of course, the third-string quarterback gets very few opportunities, if any, to do any meaningful work over the course of the regular season. At best, their job is primarily to help the opposing defense prepare for their upcoming opponent.

“It’s been good work for him”, Fichtner said about Mettenberger’s chance to get some quality reps splitting work with Landry Jones during the bye week. “It’s been good for us to evaluate it on tape”.

The veteran quarterbacks coach told reporters that the LSU product has “great arm talent”, but that he is “a little erratic with the slot and where he keeps his spot all the time, keeping it accurate”. He also described the ex-Titan as “pretty sharp” and added that “he’s picked things up”, though he cautioned that what they’ve thrown at him has been limited.

A lot of fans, particularly those who have been nonplussed over Landry Jones’ appearances over the course of the past two seasons, have advocated for the coaching staff to give greater consideration to playing Mettenberger and having him become Roethlisberger’s backup. To his credit, Mettenberger has a more extensive NFL playing history, although he is winless as a starter.

While the Steelers have used this extra time as an opportunity to evaluate Mettenberger, I would not expect anything to develop from this over the course of the season. It should be noted, however, that Jones will be a free agent after the 2016 season, while Mettenberger will still be under contract.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • pittsburghjoe

    Landry Jones vs. Mettenberger. Hmm, let me think on this one… The electric chair or the guillotine? Vacationing in Cleveland or Cinci? Forced to drive a Prius or walk 10 miles in the rain? Why can NE win with their 2nd and 3rd string QB and we struggle with a veteran backup? I think something needs to be done about this next year, maybe a solid veteran near the end of his career will become available. Yeah, I know… who is that?

  • Rocksolid20

    It’s called coaching . NE has it , we don’t .

  • WreckIess

    I agree with the notion that we need to improve at the backup QB position, but I also agree that nothing will really come of this. Which it shouldn’t because honesty, Mettenberger sucks. I would rather have neither, but since these are the options I’m talking Landry 7 times outta 10.

  • k33ger

    It’s called a great offensive line. NE has great pass protection for their QBs, which makes it a lot easier.

  • falconsaftey43

    Garopalo is a vet and 2nd round pick. he’s a good QB. They also have a good defense. Their 3rd stringer won with 97 pass yards because the D forced 3 TOs against a horrible Texans team.

    We were playing the best team in the AFC and dont have a defense. hard for offensive teams to win with a backup QB.

  • Hypo Cycloid

    NE has a terrible offensive line. Really bad. And our offensive line is way better than theirs. It is one of NE’s glaring weaknesses. Brady simply gets the ball out quick and knows exactly what the defense will be trying to do. Besides that though, Garropolo is so obviously better than L. Jones. We just simply don’t have adequate backups ever since Charlie Batch retired.

  • JB Burgess

    Tomlin has been a failure at getting a competent defense. Total failure

  • Steve Johnson

    I can’t argue with you there, who can. Poor evaluator when drafting players too. Let’s add Kevin Colbert to the mix too. But Tomlin does a great job of articulating himself during his press conferences.

  • falconsaftey43

    Im not disagreeing that they have struggled to put together a defense, but lets not act like Tomlin is a bad coach. Only Bellicheck, McCarthy, Arians have better W%, and Arians hasnt been doing it long. He’s also go them to 2 Super Bowls.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    except that mostly landry did a good job.

  • falconsaftey43

    Redzone INT, only converted 5/16 3rd downs. he wasnt bad, but not good either. this team doesnt have a good enough D to win games when the offense isnt good.

  • Steelers12

    I see the Tomlin bashing commences

    Leave Jones in he is a decent back up

  • Applebite

    The NFL killed the development of the QB position with the ‘Must win right now!” mentality. A lot of teams that hang around the lower rounds of the draft will get good college talent, and throw them to the wolves, thinking they can get it all in one go. But QBs in college that ‘simply get it’ at this level are few and far between. Because these teams burn out these young men, they hardly learn anything, and it trickles downward. And the teams involved are unrepentant in doing it all over again.

    But Jones didn’t have to go through any of that. Which is why I’m really sour on him as a player at this level.

    He didn’t have to go through what Mettenberger went through with the Titans, being thrust into the limelight almost immediately. People seem to have forgotten how quickly the Titans burnt out Jake Locker’s desire to even play. And for all the finger pointing at wins and losses, it wasn’t as if the Titans had a fantastic line blocking for them. They lost games for more reasons than the play at QB.

    Saying that to point this out, Jones’s excuses are very few. He was a 4th rd pick, so not much was ever expected of him right away (me, personally, I never expected much of him at all since college…). He’s had a relatively solid O-line and coaching staff around him. He has a veteran HOF pending QB to learn from. What’s his sole excuse?

    Giving Mettenberger a few shots here and there wouldn’t hurt anything at this point. If anything it could only help. And again, I don’t think anyone is expecting to see a golden halo shinning off Mettenberger’s jersey, as the supposed promised one. No, I think all fans are asking for is don’t poo the bed in relief, as the starter. That’s all he has to do. Like many other fans, I’m sick of seeing the Steelers having to flip the mattress for Jones.

  • RickM

    Makes a lot of sense. Even if Ben plays, we’ve learned over the last 15 months that 2nd and 3rd-stringers can be called into action. Getting Zach some limited reps with the first team makes sense.

  • Bill

    I concur that the Patriots defense is good but it’s due far more to coaching than talent!

  • LucasY59

    Ben is limited, Zach came in late in the preseason, It seems like a perfectly normal thing to do with the extra week of practice

  • Matthew Marczi

    The bye week is always a great opportunity to get guys reps who otherwise never would and to learn a bit about the back end of the roster.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Exactly. It’s nothing more than that.

  • Steve

    The Pats OL was so bad last year – The OL coach was fired. Got to say the Pats don’t play with poor coaches.

  • Steve

    Garopalo is as much of a Vet as Landry Jones is and has never started on any team except for when Brady has been hurt. Landry and Garopalo were both drafted in the 2013 draft.

  • Steve Johnson

    I understand where you going with your statement, but Defense Wins Championship’s, and Tomlin done a poor job putting together that Defense since his arrival. I have to call it like see it. The Defense is young, sometimes it does take time. But as of now, they play too soft.

  • A Football Fan

    It is ridiculous to Start Ben against Baltimore. All risk no reward. 30th Ranked Passing Defenses don’t play in Super Bowls. Forget Mittenberger he won’t be here next year. The best strategy is to give Landry Jones all of the opportunity he can get to prove himself so the Steelers can get as good of a draft trade for him that they can draft a backup QB for next year.

  • John Pennington

    Start getting Zach ready why not he is one play from coming in put the time in with him and get him ready time is not on our side and Jones has shown the steelers they cant win with him need a strong arm in there and Zach has that help him learn the protections and getting the timing just get the man ready