The Green Bay Packers (5-4) would likely prefer to see former Super Bowl and regular season MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers trotting on the turf of MetLife Stadium against the New York Giants (3-6) this weekend, but the team should feel good with third-year workaholic Scott Tolzien under center.
Tolzien, who used to play college football in-state for the Wisconsin Badgers, will make his first career NFL start on Sunday, but he has experience under the brightest lights. During his senior season with the Badgers in 2010, Tolzien led Wisconsin to an upset victory over top-ranked Ohio State, a Big Ten title and an appearance in the Rose Bowl.
“It’s a big atmosphere, lots of people watching,” Tolzien said when comparing his Rose Bowl experience to the NFL stage. “At the same time though, it’s the same game you played in high school and youth football and you are still trying to accomplish the same thing.”
Although Tolzien left Madison as one of college football’s most efficient quarterbacks of all-time, not many could’ve seen Tolzien ever starting at quarterback for the Packers three years out of college. “I’d like to think I’m a lot better now,” Tolzien joked when comparing his play now to when he was with the Badgers.
It was only 11 days ago that the Packers had promoted Tolzien from the practice squad to the 53-man roster and only five days ago where he was named the Packers’ third different starting quarterback in the last three weeks in lieu of Rodgers’ collarbone injury.
During Sunday’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in relief of veteran quarterback Seneca Wallace, who suffered a season-ending groin injury, Tolzien completed 24-of-39 passes for 280 yards and threw one touchdown with two interceptions. Prior to Sunday, Tolzien had never taken an NFL snap in a regular season game.
After the Packers placed Wallace on the IR on Tuesday, Green Bay signed veteran quarterback Matt Flynn to back up Tolzien against the Giants. “It’s been a wild couple of weeks but it’s part of the job,” Tolzien said. “The focus remains the same, whether it is practice squad or not, you make the most of each day. It’s a learning opportunity.”
Tolzien has been praised by his teammates and coaches all week for his work ethic and preparation habits leading up to Sunday. With Rodgers, Wallace and Flynn, Tolzien is in good spirits in the Packers’ quarterback room. “Aaron, Seneca, Matt, my coaches have all been a huge help,” Tolzien said. “I really value the things they say because they’ve done it before.”
Is Tolzien as talented as Rodgers? Absolutely not. Could the Packers finally have a solid backup quarterback behind Rodgers for the first time since the Flynn days from 2008-2011? Yes, it’s possible. For a young quarterback who was thrown into the fire at such a pressing time on Sunday, minus his two interceptions, Tolzien played great in his first NFL regular season appearance.
There is a good reason why Packers head coach Mike McCarthy named Tolzien the starter immediately after the team’s loss to the Eagles and why McCarthy will give Tolzien a long leash against the Giants. Tolzien has a good-habit approach to the game, the keen ability to soak up the Packers’ offensive playbook and terminology like a sponge and he has the mental toughness.
Tolzien said he believes players who “win the week” in practice, meetings and film study typically win on gamedays. After Sunday, hopefully Tolzien can proudly say he’s been there and done that like his fellow veteran quarterback teammates.