All eyes on QB Scott Tolzien as Colts prepare for Steelers

Scott Tolzien #16 of the Indianapolis Colts passes against the Philadelphia Eagles in the third quarter of a preseason NFL game at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Scott Tolzien #16 of the Indianapolis Colts passes against the Philadelphia Eagles in the third quarter of a preseason NFL game at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The question is understandable as the Indianapolis Colts prepare Scott Tolzien for what would be the third start of his modest NFL career.

Who is this guy that for at least the time being holds the reins of the offense, and the team’s playoff hopes, in his hands?

Dwayne Allen answered that by revealing who Tolzien isn’t.

“There’s a reason why he’s our backup,’’ the veteran tight end offered Tuesday. “There was no raffle. He wasn’t the last resort we picked up off the street.

“The coaching staff, the GM and everyone in this locker room believes he has what it takes if the starter isn’t available to go out there and help us win games.’’

To refresh everyone’s memory, the Colts opted not to re-sign ageless Matt Hasselbeck in the offseason, even after he posted a 5-3 record as a starter last year as Andrew Luck missed nine games with injuries to his right shoulder, ribs, abdomen and kidney.

Instead, management turned to Tolzien, a free agent who had spent the three previous seasons backing up Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. The price: a two-year, $3.5 million contract.

The Colts obviously weren’t concerned with shedding Hasselbeck’s vast resume – 209 games, 160 starts, 36,638 passing yards, 212 touchdowns – and replacing it with Tolzien’s. In five seasons with the Packers and San Francisco, he appeared in six games and started two, both in 2013. He’s attempted 91 career passes – just one in the last two-plus seasons – and thrown for 721 yards with one touchdown and five interceptions.

“Scott’s got a ton of ability,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said. “I have all the confidence in the world in this guy. This organization does.’’

The Colts are banking on Tolzien being up to the challenge on what promises to be a daunting stage and in pressurized situation.

They evened their record at 5-5 and rekindled their playoff hopes with Sunday’s win over the Tennessee Titans, then were further boosted Monday night when AFC South leader Houston lost to the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City.

But if the Colts are to remain on the Texans’ heels, it appears they’ll have to do so without Luck at least for this week. He suffered a concussion against the Titans and must work his way through the NFL’s protocol to gain medical clearance.

Pagano was asked if he had an update on Luck’s status.

“He’s still in the protocol.’’

Has he made any progress?

“He’s still in the protocol.’’

So Thursday night at Lucas Oil Stadium with the Steelers in the house and NBC’s national audience watching, all eyes more than likely will be on Tolzien. He would make his third career start three years to the day after making his last start, Nov. 24, 2013 against Minnesota.

If Luck is ruled out, look for the Colts to sign Stephen Morris to the active roster from the practice squad.

Pagano was coy when asked if he’s relatively certain Tolzien would start if Luck fails to gain medical clearance.

“We have options,’’ he said, referring to Morris. “I could just give (the Steelers) a holler, say, ‘Hey, Mikey . . .’’’

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, Pagano added, is “a good guy and I have great respect for him, but got to keep some things secret.’’

Tomlin admitted the Steelers are preparing for Luck, and will alter their approach should things change.

“To be honest, we haven’t focused on Tolzien at all,’’ he said. “We got that information late in the day (Monday). I just think it is prudent to prepare for Andrew and then react to whatever may transpire that is different as opposed to the other way around.’’

Despite appearing in only six games in six seasons and taking limited snaps in practice as Luck’s backup, Tolzien insisted he treats each day the same.

“It’s my job to be ready,’’ he said. “That’s my goal as a professional and my job to do that every week.’’

The Colts are no strangers to losing players to injury. Again, they had to deal with a Luck-less offense for nine games last season. This year, a dozen front-liners have missed at least one start.

But it’s ridiculous to compare Luck’s absence with the vast majority of the other players who’ve missed time.

“Obviously you can’t replace a guy like Andrew, his presence, his playmaking ability, what he means to the organization,’’ veteran linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “But the thing we’ve preached from the first day we stepped in this building is . . . about stepping up and always preparing to be the starter. It’s common ground for us.’’

The objective while Luck is out: everyone simply must do his job.

Listen to two-time Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton: “The five-stars have to play like five-stars. That’s just it.’’

Or listen to Allen: “It’s not going to be the same (without Luck) and we’re not asking for it to be the same. We just want Scott to go out there and execute. We don’t want him to go out there and try to emulate Andrew.

“Andrew’s very unique, a special player. But so is Scott in his own right.’’

The supporting cast – offense and defense – must make certain it helps Tolzien, and doesn’t compound the task at hand with missed assignments and erratic play.

“There is a heightened attention to detail with everyone around here,’’ Allen said. “Those little mistakes you could get away with with 12 behind center, you’re not going to be able to get away with now.’’

Pagano’s message to Tolzien and Morris was to the point: “Just play. You can’t press. Prepare, prepare, prepare, prepare. When (the game) comes, go play. Get the call, get ‘em out of the huddle, get to the line of scrimmage and go play. Go execute.

“You’re not alone. (Tolzien) doesn’t have to put the whole thing on his back, whoever, it is. Andrew never does. Just gotta play.’’

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