From the Far Hash: the Practice Squad Quarterback Plot Thickens
On Sunday, it was announced that the Packers signed quarterback Scott Tolzien to the practice squad. Tolzien, who many of you may recognize, is a University of Wisconsin product and had stints with the San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers.
This may be complete surprise to many of you, including myself. I long suspected that B. J. Coleman wouldn’t make the final 53-man roster, but he was very likely going to be the practice squad quarterback.
But, Ted Thompson threw us all for a loop last Sunday. He temporarily kept B. J. as the number two quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers after releasing Vince Young. Obviously, in hindsight, Coleman was just a placeholder while Thompson went shopping for a veteran presence behind Aaron Rodgers. He settled on Seneca Wallace and waived Coleman.
Seneca Wallace may not have been the surprising part. The real surprise, in my opinion, was completely letting go of all of the B. J. Coleman hopes and dreams and instead bringing in Scott Tolzien to the practice squad.
Why Tolzien? Why now?
Brian Carriveau wrote an article over at CheeseheadTV more than two years ago explaining how McCarthy really liked Tolzien as a developmental quarterback prospect.
Perhaps that explains the signing.
But, I think there may be something more nefarious than that.
Tolzien did spend considerable time in the San Francisco 49ers system. He obviously understands their playbook and offensive philosophies. I thought this was probably the case almost immediately. Is the sole reason of bringing Tolzien, the week before the season opener against the 49ers, to have him talk with defensive coordinator Dom Capers and head coach Mike McCarthy?
Perhaps that explains the signing.
But, last night while listening to the Out of the Pocket podcast, I heard Richard Chang bring up a very interesting question. He basically asked if Tolzien would really bring any advantage to the Packers that the coaches could easily find just by watching game film. Wouldn’t any self-respecting coach, all 32 of them in the NFL, know how to break down an opponent just by watching the film? Chang nailed it with these insights.
Yes, I would say they can. They can find tendencies, strengths, weaknesses, and areas to attack. Every coach in the NFL is good at this, which is why they aren’t still coaching at St. Somethingoranother Catholic High School.
So, what does Tolzien bring to the table?
Even though training camp is largely spent working on fundamentals, every team in the NFL begins working on their opening day opponent at various stages in camp. Tolzien can give some insights on that.
Every team self-scouts, the Packers included. They want to break down their own strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, and areas needing improvement. What the Packers believe to be the truth in their self-scouting may not be what the 49ers have interpreted with their breakdown.
The 49ers will have identified who are the Packers’ best and weakest players. They will have identified the Packers’ play calling tendencies, on both offense and defense. Let’s face it, both Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers are painfully predictable at times.
Tolzien can bring this to the Packers, and then they can protect the weaker players through scheme. On the flip side, they can build their game plan around the players the 49ers fear the most. They can change up their play calling tendencies and not give the 49ers the patterns they are expecting.
Tolzien will have many willing ears ready for a listen to deliver new information the Packers may have overlooked. While we are our own toughest critics, familiarity often makes it harder to catch our own errors. How many times do you miss the typo in something you’ve written, but your friend catches it right away during the first proof-read? Exactly. Consider Tolzien as your proof-reading buddy.
Also, Tolzien can mention just how often the 49ers worked on gadget plays, fake field goals, and fake punts in training camp. He might also have some insight as to just how often head coach Jim Harbaugh might call them, as well as the circumstances that will trigger such a play call.
Furthermore, last year, Colin Kaepernick was just starting to grow into his starting role. That role will be greatly expanded with new plays designed to highlight his abilities. I’m sure they didn’t show these plays during the preseason, but they sure as heck showed them during practice.
And, remember, every team self-scouts. Tolzien will have knowledge about the 49ers’ self-assessment. Last night, on the Out of the Pocket podcast, Kelly asked whether or not Colin Kaepernick has any subtle telegraphs in his play. Then I began thinking. Does Aldon Smith have any twitches before he rushes the passer or suddenly drops into pass coverage instead? Does Patrick Willis lineup slightly differently before blitzing or playing zone coverage? Just how good has Vernon Davis adapted to playing wide receiver, after assuming that role to make up for the injured Michael Crabtree, this summer? What new 49ers rookies, who have little film on them so far, be receiving considerable playing time? Tolzien will certainly have opinions on these.
Tolzien might not bring too much more information that the Packers coaching staff can’t catch on film. But, he has to bring something, no matter how small or trivial. Football is a game of inches, and every bit of intel matters. As Colleen brought up in the Out of the Pocket podcast last night, Bill Belichick must have gained some small advantage from his video-gate scandal. There had to be some small bit of information on those roles of film that weren’t found on the standard coach’s game film. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have done it.
So, there you have it. While McCarthy might legitimately be interested in Tolzien as a developmental prospect, the timing and coincidences are just too much. If Tolzien didn’t bring anything to the table, the Packers would probably have been better off keeping and further developing B. J. Coleman.
Especially considering, during his presser yesterday, McCarthy came out and said that he still likes B. J. Coleman and he can’t predict the future of who may or may not be on the Packers’ roster. He’s not ruling anything out.
And you shouldn’t, either.
Featured photo by mrlaugh (Creative Commons).