Scott Tolzien deserves No. 2 quarterback role
Scott Tolzien should be the No. 2 quarterback for the Green Bay Packers.
He has passed every test and impressed his coaches and teammates alike, overcoming on the field what had been Matt Flynn’s advantage on paper entering the offseason.
Flynn was allowed to start the two exhibition games in which Aaron Rodgers was withheld. He held his own, usually moving the team just as he did in 3 1/2 of 4 1/2 games last season.
He is a true gamer.
Tolzien, however, has proved to be the better player. The margin might be gossamer-thin at this point, but given how much Tolzien has developed in his first “quarterback school” under Mike McCarthy, there’s a real chance that within a year or two he can reach a level of performance that Flynn cannot approach.
“I don’t see anything wrong with Tolzien,” one personnel man said. “What else must a guy do to impress anybody?”
Whereas Flynn always has held the ball a little too long, Tolzien’s ability to get rid of it in timely fashion and to the open man represents his major advantage over Flynn. It’s also more than likely why he would appeal to teams seeking a competent, cheap and fairly young (soon to be 27) quarterback.
It wasn’t that way last November when Tolzien was pressed into service after having been in Green Bay for only two months. Back then, he was almost apologetic for his play. He wouldn’t say it, but the truth was there just hadn’t been enough time for him to capitalize on his legendary study habits and football mind.
Now Packers fans can see what intrigued the Wisconsin Badgers and San Francisco 49ers all those years.
The triumvirate of quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt, offensive coordinator Tom Clements and McCarthy convened after last season. They asked Tolzien to consider keeping his left elbow much tighter to the left side of his body.
Tolzien complied, and through incessant drill work and focus his delivery is more compact and his ball comes out with even more velocity and accuracy.
There is little to separate Tolzien from the dogged Flynn in most categories, but for now the former Badger has the edge in decision-making, accuracy, arm strength, feel for the rush and speed as a runner.
Tolzien hasn’t had a turnover, either, in 117 snaps. Perhaps the most remarkable play of the summer occurred in Tennessee when Tolzien fumbled in the rain, then tugged on the back of Titans linebacker Brandon Copeland to clamber by him and make the recovery.
One week later in St. Louis, Tolzien was buried on his first three dropbacks when the No. 2 line couldn’t block anybody. He popped up expressionless each time as if nothing had happened.
Flynn has proven to be an all-time tough guy and would never blame a teammate, but Tolzien might be his equal in this all-important intangible area.
“Fear is not in his vocabulary,” Van Pelt said.
The more Tolzien plays, the more he has been able to fit the Packers’ time-tempered system of offense to his game.
Defensive backs intent on watching Tolzien’s eyes are constantly out of position because he almost automatically looks the other way first. He is at ease in the no-huddle. He’s even learned how to slide in the open field.
Tolzien’s rise came after he got off to a rocky start in the first four practices of late July. That might not sound like much of a window, but as it turned out those practices marked 18 percent of the training-camp schedule.
After that, Tolzien’s challenge has been slow but steady, which is befitting of his personality. Taking shortcuts isn’t part of his modus operandi.
The revised practice-squad rules made Tolzien eligible for another year on the practice squad. It was a nice thought if the Packers had intended to stay with the familiar face in Flynn, cut Tolzien and re-sign him to the 10-man practice unit, but it probably wouldn’t have happened.
Tolzien’s exhibition tape was too special and too many teams would like a cerebral, tough, coachable and increasingly skilled passer to think he would have cleared waivers.
San Francisco, despite having a $2 million guaranteed investment in Blaine Gabbert, knows better than anyone else that the former Jaguar can’t play. On Thursday night, Gabbert underwent an X-ray on his damaged throwing shoulder.
There was no sense in helping a rival and competitor for a Super Bowl berth by just giving away a capable quarterback.
The Packers decided to retain both Tolzien and Flynn. This roster wasn’t any more difficult to trim from 75 to 53 than most years. Flynn is a more valuable commodity than some of those that were fighting for a job on the defensive line, the offensive line and another position or two.
The object in the NFL should always be to get better. Appointing Tolzien as No. 2 would reflect that.
Bob McGinn covers the Packers for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.