GREEN BAY—Just how close the competition is for the Packers' No. 2 quarterback spot is difficult to say, but if Scott Tolzien is going to close the gap, he must follow up a solid outing in Tennessee with even more efficient production in St. Louis.
The pecking order between Tolzien and current top backup Matt Flynn was established last season. After Tolzien's baptism by fire in Weeks 10-12 during what became a winless November, Flynn relieved Tolzien against the Vikings and rallied the Packers to an overtime tie before going 2-2 as the starter over the next four games.
The two wins and tie Flynn produced kept the season alive until Aaron Rodgers returned. That's a lot of ground for Tolzien to make up in one preseason.
But Head Coach Mike McCarthy said he wanted to see "faster tempo" from Tolzien in the preseason opener, and he saw it as the former University of Wisconsin QB was 8-of-12 for 124 yards in the Nashville rain and drove the offense to a TD to open the second half.
"We went some no-huddle with Scott, and he executed that well," Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements said. "Scott is the kind of quarterback who gets back there and is decisive. He gets the ball out of his hand. He's done that pretty consistently all camp, and it just carried over into the game."
While Tolzien's most memorable play was the backyard fumble recovery of his own miscue, the most important factor may have been that he didn't throw any interceptions, which were his downfall last season. He threw five in losses to the Eagles and Giants.
His night might have been even more productive had receiver Chris Harper been able to haul in what looked like a catchable pass inside the Titans' 30-yard line on fourth down early in the fourth quarter. Tolzien had driven the offense 46 yards on that possession, but it turned out to be his last. Fourth-string QB Chase Rettig took the rest of the offensive snaps.
After the game and throughout this week, Tolzien has downplayed his performance, which was better than Flynn's statistically (5-of-10, 49 yards) but came against a lower level of Tennessee's depth chart. He has frequently referred to it as "one game" with "three to go."
Number two comes Saturday afternoon in a climate-controlled environment, and Tolzien just wants to continue making progress, whether that's to remain a contender for the No. 2 job or make the team as a No. 3. Given the starters will play the most in the third preseason game, it makes this second one a big game for Tolzien.
"Hopefully, just cleaner execution," he said of what he hopes to show. "It's probably a broken record, but you're just looking to improve every day, and looking to get cleaner and sharper and improve the tempo."
Flynn and Tolzien shared second-team reps in practice this week, a sign that Tolzien could get the nod as the first quarterback off the bench Saturday after Rodgers departs. McCarthy said the order and playing time would be determined following Friday's short practice.
"We'll see how it goes," McCarthy said, adding that Rettig has a chance to play again in the fourth quarter. "We'll see how the pace of the game goes."
Aside from Don Barclay and Jared Abbrederis, who are out for the season, three other players with knee injuries will not travel to St. Louis, all undrafted rookies in running back Rajion Neal, linebacker Joe Thomas and tight end Colt Lyerla. McCarthy indicated Thomas is the closest to returning.
Veteran defensive lineman Letroy Guion, who has not practiced all camp due to a hamstring injury, will travel but not play. McCarthy suggested next week was a possibility for Guion's return.
After the rain-soaked night provided a challenge McCarthy loved, visiting the Edward Jones Dome should have its benefits as well. It's the third time in the last four preseasons the Packers are playing in a dome.
Earlier in his coaching career, McCarthy preferred to play all four preseason games on a grass surface, but he learned that it helps to play one in a dome given two NFC North foes normally play indoors. The Vikings are outdoors temporarily for the next two seasons, but the Packers will play in domes at Detroit and New Orleans this year.
"It's good we get inside for one game," McCarthy said.