What was your reaction when you were told by head coach Jim Tomsula and were you prepared to hear that?
"It's always kind of a funny deal in the NFL when you hear your number called because you never know when it's going to be. And that's kind of why you always got to stick to your routine and just always be prepared because, like they always say, you're one play away from playing and you're one play away from not playing."
How are you a different player now than when you were last a starting quarterback?
"I would say more mature. Being 25, actually 26 now, time flies, but when I got in the league as a 21-year-old, you haven't seen really anything. And going into my fifth year, just the experiences that I've had preparing for games, playing in games, starting games, being a back up quarterback. It's valuable over time to have those repetitions in practice and on the game field."
You were an inexperienced quarterback on a not very good team in Jacksonville. Was that a very fair indication of what you potentially can be?
"I don't know. I wouldn't say so. What did gain from that experience is, like I said, knowledge, knowledge of the game, knowing where to go with the football and when to go there with the football. Really, any game time experience that I got there and that I've gotten here in the preseason has been extremely important kind of to my journey as a quarterback."
You know that, Jacksonville, when you started there, seems pretty similar to where this team is now. Do you see difference between the team in Jacksonville and this team now?
"There's always similarities on a football team. We're going through a little rough patch here and I've been through plenty of those in Jacksonville, and the biggest thing that we have to focus on is just sticking to our routine. Sticking to our guns. Going out and having great practices and carrying over that practice to the game. That's the biggest thing that we're striving towards right now because we're putting together great practices. We're preparing very well. Our coaches are doing a great job giving us the right looks, but what we've got to do is take that into the game and lately, we have not been doing that."
What's the biggest challenge for somebody like you who hasn't started in a while?
"I really wouldn't say there's a challenge. My mindset is just go out there and have fun. I learned as a rookie how to prepare from [New Orleans Saints QB] Luke McCown. When you get your number called on a week like this, you just got to stick to your routine. Stick to the same way you prepare week in and week out. Still get here at the same time. Still do the right things on and off the field. Just got out there and have fun. Throw the ball around and let your guys make plays."
Did you have fun in Jacksonville?
"I did. I did. And there were tough times. I mean, I'll be the first one to tell you going 5-11, 2-14 and not having the best years, that falls on the quarterback's shoulders and I take full responsibility for that. But, at the same time, I enjoyed that journey. I enjoyed that process even though it wasn't, like I said, the most fun at times. But, like I said, I learned a ton from that. Just looking forward to applying that here."
There's conversation that sometimes when a starter sits, goes to be a backup, he can learn by watching, regrouping. You've gone through that. Do you think there's anything to that? Or do you think you kind of need to play through some things to get better?
"I think there's value to it because that happened with me in Jacksonville. I believe it was my second year, I ended up having to have surgery but [Tennessee Titans interim head] coach [Mike] Mularkey made the decision to go with [Jacksonville Jaguars QB] Chad [Henne] and it gave me a chance to step back, see how he handled the situation, see how he prepared. It's just a learning experience because all quarterbacks want to have long careers and there's going to be ups and downs, bumps in the road. But at the same time you just have to keep pushing forward because you never know when your opportunity is going to be."
How's QB Colin Kaepernick been with you in this situation?
"Colin's been great. I wouldn't expect him to be any other way. We have a great quarterback room. The dynamic between us is wonderful and it's going to continue to be that way."
Coach Tomsula said that you're the quarterback Sunday and he didn't make any sort of commitment beyond that. Do you feel that in some way this is a one game audition for you?
"No, I'm just taking it as a chance to go out there and just prove to this team what I can do. It's a great opportunity for me to go out there and play against a good Atlanta football team and, like I said, I'm just going to go out there and enjoy this. It's fun to play ball again, especially in the regular season, and we just got to get something going on offense."
You've seen this offense up close for eight games. What are some of the good things and not so good things that you saw?
"Like I said, we just got to carry over our practice to the game field because we're doing some great things, but the consistency that we're looking for hasn't been there and we just got to keep striving towards that. We're never going to be perfect. Nobody's every going to be perfect, but at the same time, we just have to focus on the things that we can control on the football field and execute the play that's called."
There's a pretty interesting video on YouTube of you and ESPN analyst Jon Gruden when you were coming out of college and he was making some points, kind of at your expense. Were those valid points that he was making to a young guy at the point?
"I couldn't tell you the points that he was making, but yeah, that was a fun deal getting in there with coach Gruden. He's a great coach and has been around the block for a long time. He's a smart football coach."
He was talking about kind of getting to the point of handing the ball off to a running back and he was using Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning as an example?
"Oh, yeah, with his old school cut-ups."
"But, yeah, the points that he made are crucial. Like you said, the mesh point with the running back. Just all the little details that we have to focus on on a daily basis and you can't take those for granted. Something that you guys see us working on every day in the individual period, getting the ball handling drills. So, just little stuff like that, we're going to continue to work on."
Do you think you can do the same things that Colin does in terms of his running and the read-option and his athletic ability?
"I wouldn't compare myself to Colin in that way because he's a phenomenal athlete. I like to consider myself a decent athlete, but what he can do running the read option is phenomenal and that's a talent he and a couple guys have. But, at the same time, when we do have those plays called, I like to think I could run and get the first down."
Have you gotten many first team reps since the beginning of the regular season?
"A few. When you're the starting quarterback, you get the majority of the reps but a couple plays here and there at the end of the period, I'd go in. But, kind of the way I approach practice was, I took the scout team as my opportunity to get reps. So, when we were doing the scout team huddles, I would call our terminology, our protections. That's how most backups quarterbacks get there work throughout the week because the starters do need the reps versus the looks you're going to get that week in the game. So, the last eight weeks, throughout training camp, those scout team reps have been crucial."
Do you think during those reps though, it's an accurate depiction of really what pressure, quarterback pressure can be during a real game?
"I would say so. Our defensive line is pretty stout and the pressures that [defensive coordinator] coach [Eric] Mangini will dial up. It's more about exercising your brain in those situations. Learning how to kill protections, redirect the line, get the backs going to the right people. So, it's kind of, you have hands-on control in the scout team, which has been fun and I think those reps have been valuable."
You mention your age and maturity, but when you came in as a rookie and number 10 overall pick, there's all kind of pressure on you. And here, there doesn't seem to be, at least the outward, outside pressure on you. Does it feel different as you step into this point as opposed to what you were?
"I wouldn't say I felt outside pressure there. I think pressure is what you apply on yourself. You put it on yourself to succeed because you know, say, you know you're better than how you're playing. You know you're better than the way you're performing and you put pressure on yourself to do better. It's kind of a different situation here being a veteran now. But at the same time, I have pressure on myself to prepare the right way. Get all the looks in practice and go out there and play well."