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Scott Tolzien, Stephen Morris competing for Colts’ backup quarterback spot

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NFL: Preseason-Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

In Saturday night’s preseason opener, it was obvious that Scott Tolzien struggled at quarterback. On the Colts’ first five drives, Tolzien completed just 4 of 11 passes for 19 yards. He improved for the final two drives of the first half, but it was a rough outing overall - even head coach Chuck Pagano noticed it.

“[The preseason reps are] very, very important,” Pagano said today. “Again, we had a lot of guys play really well. I thought Scott overcame a slow start. There were plays he had guys and we had some drops and some guys could’ve made some plays, but he rebounded and did a nice job, especially at the end of that first half. For him to go out there and get the snaps that he got against Buffalo and play that entire first half, that does well for his confidence number one, [and] the rest of the players. He is earning the confidence and trust of everybody in this organization and everybody in that locker room. He did a good job, he managed the game well. Accuracy, we always have to work on that but the decision-making and taking care of the football and extending plays, he did a nice job. These snaps are invaluable.”

That accuracy he mentioned wasn’t great the other night, and Pagano knows that needs to improve.

“I think he’s been good,” Pagano said, before adding that, “there were some inconsistent times out there – you guys saw it, I saw it, we all saw it. I think again, as things calmed down for him and slowed down for him, he kept his eyes down the field and did a nice job with the decisions and things like that. I think he gained confidence and was able to put together a couple good drives. There were easy throws that guys miss and he made those throws. He had a shallow cross to start a drive to Chase Coffman, I believe on that drive. He is working at it, he is a tireless worker and he can make all the throws. He has a strong enough arm and we’ve all seen that. I think him and Stephen [Morris] are the same, they just have to continue to try to be as accurate as possible and make sure that you are putting the ball in the right spots where our guys can get it and they’re not high throws over [the middle]. The one to Josh [Stangby] on a third down and seven, he has to put it right here. He knows he is going to get whacked and it’s going to be a bang-bang play, but give him a chance to make that play and fall forward for a first down.”

Though Pagano pointed out that one specific play, there were several others: such as his underthrow of Phillip Dorsett down the field despite a clean pocket. Those are plays Tolzien simply has to make but didn’t. And let’s understand that this isn’t like last year, when some people decided to freak out about Matt Hasselbeck’s preseason play - that was regarding a player who had already played in 201 NFL games and thrown for 34,948 yards and 203 touchdowns. This year with Tolzien? He’s a guy who has played in just six NFL games, has thrown for just 721 yards, and has thrown one touchdown compared to five interceptions. Job security isn’t a luxury Tolzien has, and Pagano surprisingly acknowledged that.

“Yeah, everybody is competing at this point,” Pagano said when asked whether Stephen Morris could win the backup job. “He is no different than anybody else out there. Until we make the cut down to 75 and we cut to 53, the competition is, nothing is given to Scott and we haven’t told Stephen that he is the third. Unless he decides on his own and he’s okay with that, that’s on him. I thought he did a really good job and like you said, it was not too big for him. He has come back from the offseason and is a little different guy. His sense of urgency, his focus, his attention to detail, the way he is preparing and the way he is practicing, it all led to a really good performance for him against Buffalo. If he keeps doing that then it will be interesting to see how that unfolds.”

In other words, Chuck Pagano confirmed that there is a battle for the number two quarterback spot behind Andrew Luck, as Scott Tolzien and Stephen Morris are competing. Tolzien had a rough night on Saturday, and Morris actually looked better: He completed 5 of 9 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown and added three rushes for 19 yards. Granted, he was playing against third-string guys, but at the same time he was playing despite seeing very, very little reps in training camp (I’m serious: most days he didn’t get any team reps). I’m not yet ready to begin saying that Stephen Morris is the better option or that he’s the favorite to win the backup spot, but it’s certainly a very realistic possibility - especially if he continues to outperform Tolzien in the preseason.