FOXBOROUGH, Mass.— Scott Tolzien showed Thursday night why the Green Bay Packers felt so comfortable letting Matt Flynn walk this offseason.
Aaron Rodgers and the first-team offense handled the first three series against New England Patriots in the Packers’ preseason opener, but Tolzien looked right at home once he supplanted the MVP quarterback in the second quarter of the eventual 22-11 victory.
Tolzien brought his efficiency in practice with him to Gillette Stadium. He commanded the no-huddle offense for four series, leading two touchdown-producing drives while completing 10-of-16 passes for 107 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown to receiver Jeff Janis.
The Packers have invested two years into Tolzien’s development, but didn’t feel he was ready for the No. 2 role last season. With Flynn backing up Rodgers in 2014, the coaches tweaked Tolzien’s throwing motion and footwork.
Since re-signing on a one-year, $1.35 million deal in March, there’s been a noticeable difference in Tolzien’s decision-making and velocity. On Thursday night, it was time for Tolzien to translate his improvement to a game situation.
He responded with a 102.9 passer rating.
“You want to make it as seamless as possible,” said Tolzien of his transition. “Aaron is the MVP, so it’s hard to match what he does. But at the same time, I want to learn as much as I can from our coaches and there’s no better coach than Aaron, too. It’s a great teaching tool. I’m lucky to be in that situation.”
As many changes as Tolzien has made, the fifth-year quarterback has been impressive regardless in five preseason appearances with the Packers. Last summer, he didn't commit a turnover and completed 38-of-56 passes for 477 yards and three touchdowns.
Tolzien continued to protect the ball against the Patriots, but not at the expense of big plays. The former Wisconsin standout’s finest moment came on a seven-play, 60-yard scoring drive on the second-team offense’s second series.
Tolzien looked comfortable in the pocket and going through his reads, completing a critical 16-yard pass to tight end Justin Perillo on third-and-1. He later hit second-year receiver Jeff Janis in stride with a 26-yard touchdown pass over the coverage of Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan.
It was reminiscent of his recent performances in the two-minute periods in camp.
“Scott, it’s Scott’s natural progression for him (and) making plays,” said Rodgers, who completed 11-of-19 attempts for 117 yards. “He made a really good throw on fourth down to Jeff. Nice to see Scott being productive, as he should.”
While Tolzien is known for his work ethic, McCarthy and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt knew there were certain aspects of the quarterback’s mechanics that needed fine-tuning from the moment he signed onto the team’s practice squad in September 2013.
There just wasn’t any time for refining after Rodgers (broken collarbone) and backup Seneca Wallace (groin) succumbed to injuries early that season. Tolzien moved the offense in three appearances, but also threw five interceptions.
Receiver Myles White has been in Green Bay the past two seasons and seen a definite change in Tolzien’s approach to the game. When both were on the practice squad, he’d spend hours catching passes from Tolzien in pre-game warmups.
His ability to put a touchdown pass to Janis on a dime isn’t surprising.
“I think Scott has done a great job,” White said. “You could see it tonight — he’s a great quarterback, great player, great leader. Really understands the offense and he grows every day. Everyone knows A-Rod is one of the best, if not the best, quarterback in the league. He’s got a great opportunity and a great situation for him.”
Tolzien gave way to rookie Brett Hundley after rookie running back Alonzo Harris plowed into the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Despite some early struggles in camp, Hundley got into a rhythm during his third series after hitting rookie receiver Larry Pinkard on a 31-yard competition, the longest of the night by either team.
The fifth-round pick out of UCLA finished the eight-play, 61-yard series with a 10-yard pass to rookie running back John Crockett. Hundley immediately ran into the arms of Crockett and right tackle Fabbians Ebbele.
“It was just an awesome, awesome experience,” Hundley said. “I’ll always remember it.”
The Packers’ four quarterbacks, including UW-Whitewater’s Matt Blanchard, combined to complete 27-of-43 passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns (98.5 passer rating).
“I just thought overall as an offense the depth showed at all positions,” Tolzien said. “It was fun to watch. These are the guys you see making plays in practice and it was cool to see those guys make plays under the lights tonight. I thought Brett did a really nice job.”
Tolzien tempers his excitement about his own performance. Like last year, he cautions that it’s “just a start” and that there’s still a lot of preseason football yet to be play. However, it’s a start Tolzien can build off, especially in the eyes of McCarthy.
The Packers took a risk in not re-signing Flynn, but Tolzien looks like he can handle the job.
“I thought the quarterbacks, the group played well,” McCarthy said. “Scott had the offense running at a very high tempo and did a really good job with the no-huddle mechanics and obviously he was productive. I thought Brett did some nice things. The touchdown throw was a nice play.”
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