INDIANAPOLIS — Scott Tolzien signed with the Indianapolis Colts last March knowing he wasn't going to be "the guy" under center for the team by any means.
But when he hit free agency, Tolzien said he wanted to sign with a team where he knew he could develop as a quarterback, regardless of his placement on the depth chart.
And after his first season as the team's backup to Andrew Luck, Tolzien said he thinks he accomplished just that.
"It was a good year," Tolzien said the day after the Colts' 24-20, season-ending victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. "It was a great learning year. I thought I got some great coaching, I thought we had a really good quarterback room. And the challenge is to keep progressing."
A backup the previous three seasons to a perennial Most Valuable Player candidate in Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Tolzien said he's enjoyed soaking in what he can from both the players around him and the coaches instructing him on and off the field.
That didn't change when Tolzien got to Indianapolis. He said after spending hour upon hour, day upon day at Luck's side, he would have no hesitancy putting Luck "in the 'great' category," even throwing around the infamous "E" word oftentimes attached to the top quarterbacks in the league.
"Just the way he works, being the scenes with him you see how much time he puts into it and you see how tough he is, how competitive he is and the way he leads the guys on the field," Tolzien said of Luck, who put together perhaps his best all-around season in 2016. "He's an elite quarterback for a reason, and he puts a lot of time into it."
With a first-year offensive coordinator in Rob Chudzinski, as well as a first-year quarterbacks coach in Brian Schottenheimer, Tolzien said a complete comprehension of the team's offensive schemes naturally took a little time for both Luck and himself.
But once things got rolling, Tolzien said he noticed something click in Luck.
"I think everyone's comfort grew within the offense," Tolzien said. "Having a new coordinator, you don't get comfortable just through OTAs and training camp. It takes games as well to figure out your identity, and I think as we were able to figure out our identity, Andrew continued to improve."
Even when things didn't go Luck's way at times early on in the season, Tolzien said he saw what makes the former first-overall pick so special.
"He's so competitive, and he's able to put the past behind him and learn from his previous mistakes," he said. "A lot of guys would put their tail between his legs, and he does just the opposite, and I think he rises to that occasion. And he loves that challenge. Even though we didn't start hot — he didn't start hot — it didn't distract him, and he's the ultimate competitor, and that's why he's elite."
And when Luck wasn't able to go Week 12 on Thanksgiving Night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, it was Tolzien that had to step in and make the start — just the third of his six-year NFL career.
Tolzien displayed plenty of toughness under duress throughout the game, and completed 22 of 36 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown — the second passing touchdown of his career, and first since Nov. 10, 2013 — and two interceptions in Indy's 28-7 loss to the visiting Steelers, who have since advanced to the AFC Championship game.
Despite taking "some shots out there," according to center Ryan Kelly — Tolzien was sacked three times in the game and hurried many other times — Kelly said he confirmed everything they already knew about the veteran signal caller.
"I think it just shows you the testament to his character, his morals and how much he wants to win for this team," Kelly said of Tolzien. "Obviously it didn't happen the way that we wanted it to but just to know that we have that back there really defines the team. We just like to have guys like that around the locker room and he's one of the best guys to be around."
Tolzien also got in some mop-up duty in two other games in 2016, and in all, completed 23 of 37 passes (62.1 percent) with the aforementioned one touchdown, with two interceptions.
As his offseason gets underway, Tolzien said his main goal by the time returns to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center is "just to improve." He acknowledges that's "a simple answer," but knows there's always many ways an NFL quarterback can get better during their time away.
"You can always get stronger, you can always improve your fundamentals, and then just continuing to learn the playbook," he said. "And just continue the familiarity with the guys and the playbook and everything like that."