San Francisco third-string quarterback Scott Tolzien says he's… (Paul Sakuma / Associated…)
Reporting from Santa Clara, Calif. In the last two weeks, Scott Tolzien of the San Francisco 49ers has thrown for more than 10,000 yards.
And he's never taken a snap in an NFL game.
Tolzien is the third-string quarterback whose job it is to emulate the opposing passer to help prepare the 49ers defense. His assignments in the playoffs so far? He has played the role of New Orleans' Drew Brees and the New York Giants' Eli Manning, who combined for 10,409 yards passing this season.
Backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick helps out with the scout-team offense too, but mainly it's the rookie Tolzien who, in any given week, has been Dallas' Tony Romo or Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger or Philadelphia's Michael Vick.
"It helps," 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "You've got to have a good quarterback throwing the ball. [Tolzien and Kaepernick] try to beat us all the time. The scout team is big for us, those guys pushing us, those guys trying to beat us, trying to get open."
San Francisco's defense was No. 1 in the NFC this season, giving up an average of 308.2 yards per game.
"The way I look at it is this is an unbelievable opportunity," said Tolzien, whose team plays host to the Giants on Sunday in the NFC championship game. "I'm watching the game on Sunday and watching these quarterbacks get frustrated out there. I'm like, 'Shoot, that was me this Wednesday. Five straight passes I couldn't get a completion.'
"And then you see statistically our defense is tops in the league. So you say, 'Shoot, I truly am going against the best of the best every day.' So when you're having success, it's like, if I can do it against them I can do it against anyone. In the same way, when you're having a rough day you can say, 'Well, this is the best of the best and it's not going to be easy.' "
A former standout at the University of Wisconsin, Tolzien was signed by San Diego last summer as an undrafted free agent, was released after a month and promptly picked up by the 49ers. He has yet to appear in a game.
In a way, though, he feels as if he has played a role in every game. And he has.
"I'm trying to get myself better, and I'm trying to get our defense better," he said. "So ... sometimes I am going to try to squeeze one into tight coverage because I want our guys to get a look. I'm not going to throw the ball out of bounds because that's not going to give anyone looks. You emulate them to a degree, but at the same time you're trying to get yourself better and develop good habits."
By studying Brees and Eli Manning, he's picking up pointers from two of the best.
"Seeing them both from the sidelines — we've played them both this year — they're both so collected and in control," he said. "Their command of what they're doing is just so — they throw a great pass and then they just walk back and are so calm and collected.
"One thing that did stick out about those guys is their anticipation. They truly did get the ball out of their hands before the guy gets out of his break. I remember specifically being right on the sideline, both last week [when the 49ers defeated Brees' Saints] and when we played Eli, and there was an out-breaking cut right on our sideline. And with both guys, this ball was in the air before the receiver made his cut.
"The receiver turned around and it was like Santa Claus delivering a present right in his hands."
Somewhat surreal for Tolzien was emulating Cincinnati's Andy Dalton in Week 3, because he and Dalton — then of Texas Christian — had faced each other in the Rose Bowl only nine months earlier. They were both finalists (along with Kaepernick and others) for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, which Tolzien won.
"Andy Dalton's the same age as me," Tolzien said. "So you kind of put yourself in his shoes and say, 'OK, this guy's the same age as me and look what he's doing.' It's kind of a confidence booster, and motivating. Because you're like, 'Shoot, I'm sitting at third string right now, and this guy's starting in the National Football League.' "
Then again, Dalton is done for the season. His Bengals were knocked out by Houston in the first round of the playoffs. The 49ers, back in the postseason for the first time since 2002, are still alive.
Don't think Tolzien is taking that for granted.
"It's really eye-opening," he said, "when you've got a 10-year veteran walking by, and he flat-out says to you, 'You don't know how good you have it. I've been in this league for 10 years and haven't gotten a lick of the playoffs. And here you are in the NFC championship game as a rookie.' It's then when you realize, wow, I can't take this for granted.
"I really need to take this atmosphere in, because it's rare."