INDIANAPOLIS —Prepare like the starter — that's been Scott Tolzien's mindset ever since he entered the National Football League in 2011.
Since that time, Tolzien's opportunities to actually play meaningful snaps in a regular-season game have been rare; his one start last season for the Indianapolis Colts against the Pittsburgh Steelers was just the third of his career, and he's played in parts of nine games overall as a backup with the San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers and in Indianapolis.
In three other full seasons, Tolzien didn't take a snap.
But all that time put in — all that time watching from the sidelines — will pay off on Sunday, when he starts for the Colts in their season opener against the Los Angeles Rams.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard confirmed Monday that Tolzien is the team's starter until Andrew Luck is able to fully return after undergoing shoulder surgery this past offseason. But by now, after spending the entire offseason workout program, training camp and the preseason as the No. 1 quarterback in Luck's absence, Tolzien admitted he's "indifferent" to any feelings of relief knowing he'll be the man guiding the Indy offense for now.
"It's an honor, but at the same time you've got to approach it as the starter all the time, no matter where you are on the depth chart," Tolzien told Colts.com's Bob Lamey on Monday. "I've said that before, and that holds true: you should always be preparing like the starter, and I'm excited for the opportunity."
Ballard said Tolzien's consistency was the key this weekend, when the Colts began to decide on the moves they should make to get from their 90-man preseason roster to their 53-man regular season version.
While Stephen Morris was solid in preseason play for the Colts for a second straight season this year, Tolzien's performance from the start of the offseason workout program through the preseason was more consistent, leading to the decision to waive Morris on Sunday in favor of Tolzien.
"It was hard. I'm not going to lie — I'm not going to sit up here and say that was easy. That one was a hard decision," Ballard said. "But at the end of the day, Scott was more consistent over time, and that's why we made the decision."
Still, even with Luck on the sidelines, competition will continue to be a major theme for Tolzien and the Colts' quarterbacks this week — and moving forward. Indianapolis on Saturday traded a former first-round pick, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, to the New England Patriots in exchange for quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
While Brissett won't be in a position to compete for the starting spot as early as Sunday's game against the Rams, both Ballard and head coach Chuck Pagano said the hope is for Brissett, who has three years remaining on his contract, to eventually compete with Tolzien to be the primary backup quarterback.
"Scott's our starter," Ballard said. "When the Jacoby situation came up, we thought we had the chance to acquire a young quarterback that we have under contract for three years that's going to be a very good No. 2 quarterback that you can win with when he has to play. … It's the long-term thinking."
But for Tolzien, his mindset remains in the short-term. He knows how important it'll be for the Colts to get off on the right foot on the road against a re-built Rams team.
"Well, we've all got to step up — myself included," Tolzien said. "It's the greatest team sport in the world; takes all 11 guys to be on task, and a lot of preparation goes into that. And that's why this week, leading up to the game, is so important.
"Like any defense in the NFL, they've got a lot of good athletes, so it's a big week of prep — they all are — but this is the big week just because it's game week for the Rams," Tolzien continued. "And (the) first one's always big."