Smith's Departure Would Provide Opportunity for Tolzien

Niners have liked what they've seen of former Wisconsin QB in two seasons in San Francisco

By Doug Williams
|  Monday, Feb 25, 2013  |  Updated 8:46 AM PDT
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Flashback: Wild Super Bowl Scene XLVII

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Scott Tolzien may get the chance to win the No. 2 QB job with the 49ers if Alex Smith is traded. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

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Scott Tolzien, step on up.

Your time may have just arrived to take on a bigger role for the 49ers.

With multiple reports now indicating the Niners have a deal in place to trade quarterback Alex Smith, Tolzien – last season’s No. 3 QB on the depth chart – may soon find himself moving up to the backup role behind starter Colin Kaepernick.

Whether the 49ers will go into camp with just two quarterbacks is doubtful; San Francisco would likely bring in another player – perhaps a veteran free agent – to provide insurance and experience to back up Kaepernick in 2013.

But ever since the 49ers signed Tolzien just before the start of the 2011 season, head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff have said they’ve liked what they’ve seen of the former Wisconsin standout.

Tolzien, in fact, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel before the Super Bowl in New Orleans earlier this month, that being on the roster the past two seasons and learning the pro game behind Smith and with Kaepernick and the coaching staff has been a great learning experience.

“I’m trying to be a sponge,” Tolzien told the paper. “People say, ‘Well, that’s what your rookie year is.’ I still feel that way in my second year.

“It’s been invaluable working with those guys day in and day out because they’re great football minds, they’re great teammates and I think you’d be cheating yourself if you didn’t try to get as much as possible. They’re some great resources.”

Tolzien, especially, says Smith has been a great tutor.

“He’s such a sharp individual,” said Tolzien. “…I’ve learned so much from him it’s hard to put into words.”

Last training camp, Tolzien held on to his roster spot despite the challenge of veteran Josh Johnson, the former Bucs QB who had been brought in by Harbaugh – his former college coach at the University of San Diego.

Tolzien has played well in the exhibition season and impressed Harbaugh in practice and with his football smarts.

Harbaugh says he liked Tolzien from the first time he saw him on tape at Wisconsin.

“I liked his mind,” Harbaugh told the Sacramento Bee. “I liked how smart he was. I liked him when I went to the Combine and there was nobody out on the field yet, but he came out early and was out there throwing the ball around. He was there every day throwing to the backs or to the receivers. …

“Liked his tape, liked the way he gets the ball out quick.”

Niners safety Donte Whitner, in fact, took to calling Tolzien “Baby Drew Brees” in training camp this past summer.

“He’s really good,” Whitner told the San Francisco Chronicle. “He understands the reads. We can rarely trick him on the back end from a defensive-back standpoint and he knows where to go with the football. The other day in the (exhibition) game, I thought he looked as good as anybody out there on the football field.”

In that August exhibition victory over the Vikings, Tolzien completed 10-of-13 passes for 84 yards with an interception, with two of his incompletions drops.

Said Harbaugh, after Tolzien’s performance against Minnesota: “He’s real accurate in practice and he was accurate in the game. He commanded the offense. He gets the ball out quick and makes some real accurate throws.”

So, obviously, the 49ers like him.

But is he the automatic No. 2 if Smith indeed is traded once deals can be made in March? Probably not.

Since Harbaugh became head coach, he likes to have competition. Certainly, he’ll bring in a veteran to compete for the No. 2 spot. But it’s not far-fetched that if Tolzien performs well, that the 49ers would go into 2013 with Kaepernick at No. 1 and Tolzien the backup.

 

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