In watching the game on Friday, obviously a lot stood out. There was a great first drive by Alex Smith and the first-team offense, with a few nice long runs and a well-thrown touchdown pass to cap it off. There was the electrifying run by Colin Kaepernick, a 78yd. scamper resulting in a touchdown. There were other memorable plays, too.
But I think what might have impressed me most was the play of second-year quarterback Scott Tolzien. I have to say I had no expectations for Tolzien this year. He had been cut by the Chargers last year before the start of the regular season. We never got to see him in "action" with the red and gold uniform on.
With most of us having wanted Josh Johnson ever since Jim Harbaugh signed-on as head coach due to their history together at the University of San Diego, I honestly thought that Tolzien faced long odds to make the team once Johnson was acquired. Still, Harbaugh has maintained that the backup quarterback spot was a three-man race and an open competition thus-far.
What I saw of Tolzien on Friday night was encouraging to say the least...and he may have made some serious ground in the aforementioned race. More after the jump.
Tolzien started the second half for the 49ers and looked decisive and pretty accurate right from the beginning. His first play was a three-step drop and a good throw to A.J. Jenkins on the sideline. Unfortunately for Tolzien it would end up being incomplete as Jenkins dropped the pass.
On the next play Tolzien threw on a one-step drop, again to Jenkins, and while this pass wasn't as on-target, this time Jenkins snatched it. Nobody appeared to be open on the following play, so Tolzien pulled the ball down and made a gutsy run for a first down, looking pretty fleet-of-foot in the process. (When the All-22 view of this play is available I will try to take a look at the receivers and comment on their open-ness.)
Later in the drive Tolzien had a play-action pass over the middle to Garret Celek for a nine yard gain. The ball was delivered with good velocity and at the height of the quarterback's drop.
But perhaps the best play from Tolzien was a few snaps later. There was a safety blitz coming and the rusher was unblocked. Tolzien stood in the pocket and delivered a nice pass at the last minute, before being hit square in the chest by the blitzing defensive back. The pass was dropped by undrafted rookie receiver Nathan Palmer, who looked like he tried to run before he caught the ball.
It wasn't all perfect, though. Later in the game Tolzien took a sack where he held the ball for quite a while. It's hard to say if anyone was open, but it was a significant loss of yardage and at minimum he should have run out of the pocket and thrown the ball away.
He came back with a quick decisive throw over the middle to Konrad Reuland later, followed by a completion on a deep comeback route to Chris Owusu, and a curl route to Brian Tyms.
Most of the passes were of the short variety, but we know that the West Coast Offense is predicated on quick timing throws to move the ball down the field, and this is something that Alex Smith did well in 2011. It would seem that Tolzien is the most similar to Smith in terms of playing well inside the pocket most of the time, while Kaepernick and Johnson are more of the athletic, outside of the pocket threats.
At this point I could see Tolzien continuing to mature and potentially being Alex Smith's backup at some point during 2012, but I also think that Kaepernick has shown enough athletic ability to likely be used occasionally on offense, even when other quarterbacks are healthy.
(For those who haven't been here long enough to pick up on the "OUR FUTURE" from the title, there was a particular post regarding former 49ers RB Kory Sheets whereby the author was upset that the team released Sheets and thus titled their post "KORY SHEETS WAS OUR FUTURE!")