SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Scott Tolzien is having a ball playing Drew Brees in practice this week.
Not a bad gig for the little-known practice-squad quarterback, who wasn't even drafted after a stellar career at Wisconsin or active on game day for the NFC West champion 49ers (13-3) this season. He realizes full well that his behind-the-scenes role is a key to San Francisco's preparation for its NFC divisional playoff game against the high-powered Saints on Saturday at Candlestick Park.
"It's kind of cool," Tolzien said. "With all the success they're having, it's kind of fun to be running their plays and trying to figure out the rhyme behind the reason of why they're having so much success. The surprising thing is it's not really out-of-the-box thinking or anything, it's just typical stuff. It's a good game plan, but the players have to execute it for them to have success. They have a lot of good players over there who are making plays for them."
The 24-year-old rookie has watched and admired Brees for years, tuning in to as many of Brees' college games for Purdue as he could.
In last weekend's 45-28 win over Detroit, Brees and New Orleans amassed a playoff-record 626 total yards. Brees threw for 466 yards and completed 33 of 43 passes — and no doubt will provide the toughest test yet for San Francisco's deep and talented defense.
While Tolzien shares Brees duties in practice with fellow rookie and No. 2 quarterback Colin Kaepernick, they are taking pride in giving the Niners defense the best possible Brees impression they can.
"I think the No. 1 priority, just like any week, is to give the defense the best look possible," Tolzien said.
Tolzien was claimed off waivers from the San Diego Chargers on Sept. 4, just in time for the 49ers' season-opening home win against the defending division champion Seattle Seahawks.
During the preseason, Tolzien completed 25 of 40 passes for 302 yards with a touchdown and an interception. When the Chargers released Tolzien, the 49ers grabbed him immediately.
He was third on Wisconsin's depth chart only a couple of years back, then earned his chance and went 21-5 as a starter over his junior and senior seasons.
Tolzien had a nice connection to Jim Harbaugh's 49ers, too. His quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator at Wisconsin was Paul Chryst, brother of 49ers QBs coach Geep Chryst.
It's been quite a ride for the rookie despite never getting on the field.
"I grew up watching Drew Brees as a kid," Tolzien said. "He's a big-time player and he played at Purdue. I remember watching every single one of his games because that was as fun as it got watching football. They used to throw it. ... One time they threw it 85 times against Wisconsin when I was growing up. It was fun to watch from any fan's perspective. Who would have thunk I'd go from watching the guy to emulating him during the game week."