NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Quarterback Zach Mettenberger's first career NFL start came against the Houston Texans a year ago.
Depending on the health of Marcus Mariota, he could line up behind center vs the Texans again on Sunday. It would be his second straight start this season.
Mettenberger completed 22-of-35 passes for 187 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions, in Sunday's 10-7 loss to the Falcons. Mariota returned to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday, but his status for this Sunday's game in Houston remains uncertain.
Mettenberger said he's preparing to start.
"That's my thing every week,'' he said after practice Wednesday. "You're always one play away. If Marcus is up this week, then I am going to continue to work hard and if I do have the opportunity to go in and play I am going to do my best to try and lead up to a win."
One thing is certain: Mettenberger feels better on the field this year compared to a year ago, when he started six games.
For starters, he's 20 pounds lighter.
"This offseason I got to really focus on being more explosive and getting in the weight room as opposed to doing rehab and getting healthy,' he said. "I was able to lose a couple of pounds and really work on my explosion in the pocket."
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he's been able to tell a difference. Mettenberger was sacked just once against the Falcons. He was sacked 18 times in his five starts last season.
"There was a couple of times in the game (Sunday) where you could see him moving up in the pocket, and avoiding the rush, moving around,'' Whisenhunt said of Mettenberger. "Last year, he was a little more statuesque than that. Some of that is because he feels more comfortable and he has had an offseason of working on those things, so it's nice to see that."
On Wednesday, Mettenberger was asked about his personal rivalry with Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt. The two have taken jabs at one another in the past, starting when Watt made fun of Mettenberger for taking a "selfie" before last year's game in Nashville. The Texans won that contest, 30-16.
Mettenberger shifted the conversation to the team after briefly complimenting Watt, who has six sacks this season.
"Everyone knows the talent that he has and the type of player he is,'' Mettenberger said of Watt. "But this week is about two teams who are desperate to win, and it being a division game it puts us one step closer to winning the division. So really, that is our focus, to go in there and get a win,
"We are not really focused on one person, it is a team effort out there."