It’s easy to look at Indianapolis Colts quarterback Scott Tolzien as the placeholder until Andrew Luck returns from rehabbing his shoulder — the guy who will drive fans crazy by not being the guy who usually runs the show.
If the offense doesn’t move with Tolzien at the helm, calls will come for a replacement who can get that job done.
Wednesday, I made the mistake of trying to get to know Tolzien a little bit. It’s easier for me to be critical of a professional football player without having a relationship with him, but I thought in the interest of being fair, I should find out a little more about the 30-year-old best known for carrying clipboards for quarterbacks like Luck, Colin Kaepernick and Aaron Rodgers.
The Colts are in the awkward position of asking Tolzien to do a hell of a lot more than be Luck’s caddie. And for a guy who has always been on the periphery of the roster — and maybe because of it — Tolzien is one of the most centered and likable pro athletes with whom you will ever converse.
In 10 days, it is very likely Tolzien will start the fourth game of his seven-year NFL career, and he will need to find a way to tune out the noise of criticism. That’s not a problem, according to Tolzien, “You don’t get caught up worrying about what lies ahead. It’s no different from people dealing with sickness and tough times. If you can just focus on the day and get through that, I think it helps your cause and helps you make the right decisions and focuses you on the things that can make you better.”
I liked that answer, and I started to like Tolzien. It got worse when I asked about how being a career backup might help him prepare for the likelihood of starting the season opener in Los Angeles, “The life of a backup quarterback is that you are always trying to fit your spot on the roster, and I think you do get used to focusing on getting better each day and tune out the outside noise,” Tolzien said. “Earlier in my career, that stuff affects you. As you get older, you realize it’s just a privilege to play this game. The best way to approach it is to focus on daily improvement.
“Every season, you treat it like you’re a rookie.”
Another thoughtful and circumspect response. Uh-oh. How am I going to be impartial about this guy? How do I keep myself quiet in the press box when he succeeds in fulfilling expectations — either as a winner or loser?
So I finally asked how he remains so unaffected by the chaos swirling around him. “I’ve been surrounded by some awesome individuals — teachers, coaches, family, and friends — that have just kept me grounded,” he said. “There’s a quote that your five best friends are the best reflection of who you are. I’ve been lucky to have good people in my life that have shown me how to do things.”
In one short conversation, I morphed from a cynic who believed the Colts were crazy for not signing a more experienced and successful backup quarterback to rooting like hell for Tolzien to get his shot and make it count.
Thursday night, when the Colts play their final preseason tuneup against the Cincinnati Bengals, I’m going to evaluate the play of everyone from the unbiased and objective perspective of a journalist. It won’t be as easy as it would have been Tuesday.
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