Tolzien ready to make first Colts start Sunday at LA
INDIANAPOLIS — Scott Tolzien had a whole offseason to get acclimated to his job description and his new duties as the Indianapolis Colts’ starting quarterback.
It still sounds a little strange.
On Sunday in Los Angeles against the Rams, Tolzien will replace Andrew Luck in Indy’s lineup, becoming only the fourth Colts quarterback since 1998 to start on opening day.
“It is different, but surprisingly, it’s not as different as you might think because you always prepare as if you’re going to start,” Tolzien said Wednesday. “You just try to treat it like every other game and not make it any different.”
But it is different.
Over those past two decades, Luck or Peyton Manning started every Colts season opener except in 2011, when Kerry Collins got the job at Houston.
Each of the other three starters was a top-five draft pick who came into the league with lofty expectations. Each eventually played in a conference championship game and Manning went on to reach four Super Bowls, winning two.
Tolzien’s resume is the total opposite.
He signed with San Diego as an undrafted rookie in 2011, was claimed off waivers by the San Francisco 49ers just before the season opener that season, wound up on the Green Bay Packers’ practice squad in 2013 and eventually signed with the Colts as an unrestricted free agent in 2016.
In six NFL seasons, Tolzien is 0-2-1 as a starter and has thrown almost four times as many interceptions (seven) as touchdowns (two).
Still, the former Wisconsin quarterback insists the extra snaps he’s taken this spring and summer have given him a critical boost of confidence.
“He understands what the circumstances are, we all do,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “All Scott needs to worry about is good communication, good identification, get us in the right play, accuracy, make great decisions, protect the ball in the pocket, keep two hands on it, and you can’t worry about who’s trotting out there. He just needs to focus on playing fundamental football.”
How long Tolzien remains in this role isn’t clear.
Luck was activated from the physically unable to perform list Saturday but has not practiced with his teammates since undergoing January surgery to repair a partially torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.
With Luck out, Tolzien worked almost exclusively with the starting offense during all of the team’s offseason workouts, all of training camp and the entire preseason.
“I want to make sure when we get Andrew back, he can practice every day,” general manager Chris Ballard said Monday. “It’ll be a little bit of a process to get him to that, but we will. We don’t want to jeopardize a little short term here over the long haul. Andrew is a young player still, and we’ve got to have a long-term view here of where we’re going.”
Pagano doesn’t have a lot of other options right now, either.
Tolzien’s backup is Jacoby Brissett, who was acquired in a trade from New England on Saturday and is cramming to learn the playbook. The only other quarterback in town is Phillip Walker, an undrafted rookie who was re-signed to the practice squad Sunday after spending training camp with the Colts.
And when Tolzien steps onto the field Sunday, he’ll be working behind yet another reconstructed offensive line.
Starting center Ryan Kelly (foot surgery) is expected to be replaced by undrafted rookie Deyshawn Bond. Last year’s left guard, Jack Mewhort, has moved to right guard and last year’s right guard, Denzelle Good, has moved to right tackle. Jeremy Vujnovich, who started each of the previous three seasons on practice squads, will get the starting nod at left guard. Longtime starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo is the only lineman to retain his old spot.
But none of that matters to Tolzien, who is simply trying to heed Pagano’s advice by staying focused on football.
“I guess it’s kind of like any parent would tell their kid — prepare for it, work hard,” Tolzien said. “And enjoy it.”
NOTES: Safety Malik Hooker and converted cornerback T.J. Green were not limited in practice after returning from shoulder injuries. … Mewhort, who has been limited this summer after returning from season-ending knee surgery, said he feels “good” and expects to play the way he did before last year’s injury. … The Colts announced Wednesday that they had agreed to a 10-year deal, starting in 2018, to hold training camp in nearby Westfield at the 400-acre Grand Park Sports Campus.