Scott Tolzien lasted just five weeks as an undrafted rookie with San Diego in 2011.
He landed on his feet, with San Francisco claiming him on waivers and signing him to the practice squad. Rather than looking for a place to stay, he hid his duffel bag behind a couch and turned the team lounge into his personal Residence Inn.
That makes Tolzien’s rise all the more remarkable.
For most people, anyway. Not necessarily for Tolzien. He’s too busy looking forward to be looking back.
“I think anyone that’s successful, they’re not satisfied,” Tolzien said on Saturday, two days after his strong preseason debut against New England. “There’s always room for improvement, for every guy in this locker room. We’ve only played one game. Training camp, that’s the whole purpose is to improve every single day so that when the regular season starts, you’re ready to go.”
Oh, Tolzien’s ready. He’s poured his heart and soul into becoming the best quarterback he can be. From September 2013, when the Packers claimed him off waivers and signed him to the practice squad, to November 2013, when he went from the practice squad to the starting lineup in a span of just 11 days, to today, when he is the unquestioned No. 2 quarterback, Tolzien is a different player mentally and physically.
“He’s come a long way,” quarterbacks/receivers coach Alex Van Pelt said before Thursday’s game. “You think back to the time he got thrown in against Philly (when he replaced injured Seneca Wallace), and you take him from there to where he is now, I think you’re looking at a guy who feels comfortable in the system now, understands the system, understands the footwork, understands the progressions – and really understands the run game. So here’s a guy that now a year-and-a-half later is ready to go in and be able to play and play fast and be precise and feel comfortable doing it.”
Tolzien was as comfortable as can be against the Patriots. He completed 10 of 16 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown, giving him a glitzy 102.9 passer rating. Two of the team’s three touchdowns came under his direction.
Tolzien wasn’t about to dislocate his shoulder by patting himself on the back. Rather, his production on Thursday was a byproduct of his work during the offseason workouts and the start of training camp. The preparation instilled confidence.
“I think you always need to expect it out of yourself every time you step on the field,” he said. “If you don’t have confidence in yourself, it’s going to be tough sledding. That’s why you prepare as hard as you can. That way, on game day, you can feel confident — like you deserve this success.”
Tolzien has built himself into a solid all-around package at quarterback. His knowledge of the offense is unquestioned. He’s got plenty of arm. He’s athletic enough. He’s certainly good enough to start today for Buffalo (Tyrod Taylor vs. Matt Cassel), the Jets (Ryan Fitzpatrick is replacing Geno Smith), Cleveland (Josh McCown vs. Johnny Manziel), Houston (Brian Hoyer vs. Ryan Mallett), if not a few other teams. Playing this season under a one-year, $1.35 million contract, it will be interesting to see what happens if/when Tolzien reaches free agency next offseason.
That’s getting way too far ahead, though, as Tolzien would quickly point out. Today is the day that matters. What might happen in free agency in less than seven months is about as relevant as what happened a few days ago at New England. After months and months of work, his performance against the Patriots served as confirmation.
If only for a moment.
“It was gratifying for Thursday,” he said. “But now it’s Saturday and you’re trying to put your next foot forward. If you focus on what you’ve just done, it’s not going to help you moving forward. You’ve got to continue to improve every day and that’s what I try to do.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.