UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: Tolzien prepares for Super experience


As the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart, the backup to the backup, Scott Tolzien didn't take any snaps for the San Francisco 49ers. But he still feels good about his ongoing pro football education.

"For starters, I get to go against the No. 1 defense in the NFL week-in and week-out,'' said Tolzien, the former Wisconsin quarterback, who runs the 49ers' scout team in practice.

"I remember when I first got here, I thought, 'Am I the worst football player around? Or, what's the deal?' It didn't take long to figure out that our defense is extremely good.''

It's one of the reasons why the 49ers are playing in Super Bowl XLVII against the Baltimore Ravens. Another reason has been the dramatic emergence of quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Tolzien started the season as the backup to Kaepernick, who was the backup to Alex Smith. But after Smith suffered a concussion, Kaepernick took over as the starter and Smith is now the top reserve.

"I've learned a lot from just being the third guy,'' Tolzien admitted. "What I thought was really cool was that none of this quote-unquote controversy changed the dynamic in our quarterback room.

"It was still business as usual. Both guys, especially Alex, were so professional about it. I know it didn't change the way Alex prepared on a week-to-week basis. That included helping me and Colin.''

Regarding Kaepernick's rapid development, Tolzien said, "We all knew he had the physical tools. You saw that in practice. But the way he's done it on game days is extremely impressive.

"He's still a young quarterback yet he doesn't make the young guy mistakes. Even more than that, he's not just managing the game, he's making plays.''

Tolzien felt all along that Kaepernick "went into this thing extremely confident and once he was able to put a few games together, he can outwardly express that and take command of the huddle.''

Along with Washington's Robert Griffin III and Seattle's Russell Wilson, the dynamic Kaepernick has been at the forefront of introducing an innovative way to attack NFL defenses with the zone read.

"They took the league by storm this year,'' Tolzien opined. "In my mind, one of the top storylines has been what this offensive scheme has done to the league and how it has transformed it.''

But does it have staying power? Or is it a trend? Tolzien wasn't sure.

"I'm curious as anyone else,'' he said. "Right now, nobody has an answer. It creates a lot of one-on-one situations. All it takes is for one guy to be off on his gap responsibilities, and it's a house call.''

There has been no denying the impact of the dual-threat quarterback, for now, at least. But what about the new wave at the position? That includes RG3, Wilson and Indianapolis' Andrew Luck.

"I still don't think people understand how ridiculous that is to step into NFL huddle at that age and take over like they have,'' Tolzien said. "That's so uncommon. Yet they've made it look so easy.''

Tolzien, who led the Badgers to the 2010 Big Ten title, can derive satisfaction not only from the overall team results but in how the defense reacts to each individual opponent from week to week.

Leading up to the Super Bowl, he has simulated the tendencies of Baltimore's Joe Flacco and provided a picture of the Ravens offensively and "concepts that they're running'' with Flacco.

FB_130201_Tolzien_Scott_49ers.jpg"Over the course of the season,'' Tolzien said, "if you take one piece from each guy (opposing QB), you can have a few more things in your own arsenal to draw from at the end of the season.

"I basically try to treat Wednesday and Thursdays as my game days. What it all boils down to is that you're preparing each week as the starter, whether you're third string or first string.

"You'd be cheating yourself -- you'd be cheating your team -- if you weren't doing that. A majority of my focus is on our own scheme. That's one of the fun parts of the gig.''

On Super Bowl Sunday, he will be "trying to live or play vicariously through the starter and provide an extra set of eyes for adjustments that can be made during timeouts and between series.''

The mere fact that he's on the roster of Super Bowl team has been pretty overwhelming.

"This last week has been crazy, but it also has been awesome,'' Tolzien said. "It's kind of like the same feeling when you win the Big Ten and you find out that you're going to the Rose Bowl.

"Now to actually have those two things happen, it's surreal. I'm so fortunate, and so thankful, and I want to make sure I don't ever take any of this for granted.''

Although he has been inactive more than he has been active, dressing for just three games during the regular season, Tolzien has treated his apprenticeship with urgency.

"You realize at this level that a lot of it is on you,'' Tolzien said. "If you're not good enough, they're going to find the next guy. That's pretty powerful right there.

"You'd better find a way to get better each week otherwise you're not going to last. There's another crop of guys coming into this league after the draft and they're looking to take your job.

"It will be like that every year until I establish myself in this league -- until I get playing time and prove that I can do it. I'm fine with that. Bottom line: you have to be hungry to get better.''

By all accounts, Tolzien is famished. "It's pretty simple, I want to be a starter (in the NFL),'' he said. "That hasn't changed since when I picked up a football when I was 10 years old.''

To this end, he has been taking advantage of his teachers: Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh, a former NFL signalcaller, and San Francisco quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst, the brother of Pitt coach Paul Chryst.

"(Harbaugh) played over a decade in the league,'' Tolzien said, "so there's merit in the things that he points out to you, whether it's a defensive scheme or a fundamental of the position.

"It's not just coachspeak. He sees the game through our lens and that has been extremely helpful. I'm just so happy to work with both guys. They're first-class individuals and awesome coaches.

"Geep is the more talkative version of Paul (who was Tolzien's offensive coordinator at Wisconsin). They have the same humor and personality. You're just going to hear more out of Geep.''

As it was, Tolzien heard from Smith after the Badgers hired Gary Andersen as their new head coach in December.

Smith and Andersen were at Utah at the same time.

"Right away, he goes, 'That's an awesome hire,''' Tolzien said. "He told me he's just one of the most genuine people that you'll ever come across, just a normal guy.''

Not unlike Tolzien.