UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: Tolzien's improbable journey continues

FB_120119_Tolzien_Scott.jpgScott Tolzien has derived a synergy from the symmetry in his full-circle journey.

That has encompassed his ride from scout team quarterback to Rose Bowl quarterback for the Badgers -- to free agent quarterback to scout team quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.

Tolzien is still the sum of his parts -- he is who we think he is -- except on those weeks when he has been role-playing and been assigned to be somebody else for the benefit of the No. 1 defense.

Last week, he was New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

This week, he has been New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

Truth is, he was hoping for a "discount double-check" and a chance to be Aaron Rodgers.

"At one point, I was thinking, 'Holy smokes, we might be playing at Lambeau Field,''' Tolzien said. "I grew up a Packer fan and as a little kid I dreamed about playing at Lambeau.

"But all you have to do is be the better team on that given day in the playoffs, and the Giants played a cleaner game than the Packers last Sunday.''

What are the odds that Tolzien would get this shot -- a shot to be himself, Scott Tolzien, the undrafted, free agent quarterback out of Wisconsin -- with the 49ers in the NFC championship game?

"It has been a roller coaster,'' he said. "But let me put it this way, if I were to sit here today and tell you I would have known it was going to turn out like this, I would have thought, 'Hogwash.'''

That's how improbable his journey has been dating all the way back to the NFL scouting combine in February, when he was invited to be one of the "throwing quarterbacks.''

In addition to taking part in his own workouts over the three days, he stayed in Indianapolis for the entire week and threw for the other position groups: wide receivers, running backs, etc.

The other "throwing QBs" were Fresno State's Ryan Colburn and North Carolina's T.J. Yates.

Yes, that T.J. Yates, a fifth-round draft pick, who wound up taking the Houston Texans to the playoffs because of injuries to starting quarterback Matt Schaub and backup Matt Leinart.

"We got real tight throughout that week (in Indy),'' Tolzien said of his friendship with Yates. "We were kind of in each other's shadow even sitting on the bench together. He's a great guy.''

Tolzien and Yates have stayed in touch throughout the season. In fact, before Schaub and Leinart were sidelined, Yates was serving as a scout team receiver because the Texans were short bodies.

Tolzien has had plenty to text about from his end, too. When the free agency period opened, he was contacted by eight teams. His final two choices were San Francisco and San Diego.

Since the 49ers drafted a quarterback in the second round -- Nevada's Colin Kaepernick -- Tolizen ended up "signing in the final hour'' with the Chargers, who did not select a quarterback in the draft.

"I remember going from sitting in my house (in Rolling Meadows, Ill.),'' Tolzien said, "to being on the practice field in the Chargers' huddle the next day. It was just me and Philip (Rivers).''

That's because San Diego's backup quarterback, Billy Volek, wasn't in training camp yet. That afforded Tolzien a tremendous learning opportunity under Rivers and head coach Norv Turner.

"I got to play a lot in the preseason because they knew what they were getting from Philip and Billy was also a veteran,'' Tolzien said. "It was really a fascinating and awesome experience.''

Tolzien saved his best for last -- the last preseason game -- completing 16-of-23 passes for 226 yards and one touchdown. "We were throwing it all over the place, it was a blast,'' he said.

The next day, he was summoned to Turner's office. "He told me, 'I thought I knew what I was getting from you based on your senior tape, but you blew away my expectations,''' Tolzien related.

Then he cut to the chase.

Because of some grave concerns over special teams, and the time-honored "numbers'' game, Turner said, "We have to take a chance and put you on waivers and hope that nobody picks you up.''

Tolzien was released on a Saturday and claimed on a Sunday by the team that he had faced in the final preseason game -- and his second choice from the very beginning -- the San Francisco 49ers.

Tolzien had a lot of people in the 49ers organization on his side, including San Francisco quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst, the brother of Wisconsin's then-offensive coordinator, Paul Chryst.

As the No. 3 quarterback, Tolzien has split the snaps on the scout team with Kaepernick while continuing his pro education under the wing of Alex Smith, the former No. 1 pick overall.

"On game days, you basically try to live vicariously through the starter,'' Tolzien said. "We have a wristband system, so I have a headset on and an earpiece so I can hear the play call.

"Our whole system is based on checks, especially the run game. So we're looking at the pictures together on the sidelines (all three quarterbacks) and trying to figure the whole thing out.''

Tolzien has always been a player who "gets it.'' Nothing has changed in that respect.

"You just try to have big ears every day,'' he said. "You don't have to say much. You just take it all in.''

Right now, he's savoring the moment; savoring being Scott Tolzien, not someone else.

That's not hogwash, either.