Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers entered the NFL during a different era than the one Scott Tolzien finds himself in now.
When Rodgers was merely Brett Favre's backup, he worked tirelessly with his coaches during the offseason to build the foundation upon which he would someday quarterback his own team.
Coach Mike McCarthy's famed offseason quarterback camp received near-legendary status for developing Rodgers into the future MVP and Super Bowl champion he would become.
Tolzien, meanwhile, isn't afforded the same luxury. Since the NFL's most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement was instituted in 2011, offseason coach and player contact has become more restricted.
"It's different now with the new CBA because you really can't have contact with your coaches until you start the second phase of your summer program, so it's really a shortened window and you're pressing to make improvements because it is such a short window," explained Tolzien.
The offseason hasn't been easy for Tolzien. Entering his fourth season in the NFL and no longer eligible for the practice squad, there's all the motivation in the world for him to become the best quarterback he can be.
One could hardly blame Tolzien if he wanted to seek out the guidance of Alex Van Pelt, who enters his first season as the team's quarterbacks coach now that Ben McAdoo has departed to join the staff of the New York Giants. But he couldn't. Rules wouldn't allow it.
The day Tolzien reported for offseason duty on Apr. 22, he was prevented of receiving tutelage of offensive coordinator Tom Clements, let alone McCarthy.
During the first two weeks of the team's offseason program, players are permitted contact exclusively with the strength and conditioning staff.
Such restrictions come with good intentions. The line of thinking is that players will be eased back to action, taking baby steps during the months of April, May and June before the grind of training camp come July and August.
Some might argue there's a lack of common sense too. Should Tolzien really be deprived of so much as talking to his coaches?
Regardless, it's the reality of the new CBA. Tolzien is adapting, and according to McCarthy, he's making progress now that the Packers in their second week of Organized Team Activities (OTAs).
"Scott's gotten a lot better," said McCarthy. "I think what you're seeing now with Scott Tolzien is he's comfortable with the language. He's definitely comfortable with the footwork. We've changed some things with his mechanics and fundamentals. He's a tireless worker. I don't know if there's anybody in our program that spends as much time at it as Scott does."
Tolzien has been behind the eight ball ever since being cut by the San Francisco 49ers at the conclusion of training camp last season.
Initially being signed to the Packers practice squad, Tolzien's primary job was running the scout team for the first nine weeks of the season.
When Tolzien was finally forced into action after injuries to Aaron Rodgers and Seneca Wallace, more time was spent memorizing the playbook than focusing on the fundamentals.
Now that he's had a chance to step back and emphasize the technical aspect of playing quarterback at an NFL level, he can see the benefits.
"You get a chance in the offseason to learn from the ground up, the 101 of the offense if you will," said Tolzien. "It's been great for me to re-evaluate and maybe something that should have been a basic thing last year, you kind of have a moment this year, 'Oh, that's what that meant.' It's been helpful to slow down and learn it from the bottom."
There's no doubt Tolzien took his lumps last season during three games of action. A one-to-five touchdown-to-inteception ratio is all the proof needed that Tolzien must improve if he has any hopes of making the 53-man roster once again this season.
But amid all the lessons learned, there were glimmers of hope and silver linings for Tolzien. He can hang his hat on a strong arm and 8.0 yards per pass attempt in 2013.
For now, Tolzien is trying to do his best impression of Rodgers circa 2006 even though he's not afforded the same offseason opportunities Rodgers had early in his career.
"I think every offseason, every quarterback is looking to maybe no re-vamp your entire game, but you're trying to tweak a few things, and certainly I feel the same with my own game," said Tolzien. "I've really enjoyed learning the fundamentals from the coaches. I'm trying to embrace it and improve on it everyday. There's no better example than watching Aaron do it, and certainly, watching him do it speaks volumes to the benefits of having the right fundamentals."
Times have changed in the NFL, and the onus falls on the coaching staff to develop their players.
McCarthy and company are doing their best to assist their disciples such that when minicamp concludes three weeks from now, Tolzien knows exactly what he needs to continue to work on, even though his coaches won't be there to help him.
"The good thing now is I've been able to learn it from the ground up," said Tolzien, "so when I go home this offseason, I'll have an idea of what everyone's looking for and kind of be able to self-coach myself."
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
Photo: Packers quarterback Scott Tolzien by Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY
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