The 2020 Cowboys have quite the quarterbacks room. Kellen Moore is running the offense, and he spent six seasons in the NFL as a quarterback after shattering records in four years as a starter at Boise State. New quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier has a rich history of developing quarterbacks, including Marc Bulger, AJ McCarron, Tom Brandstater, Jake Locker, Brian Hoyer, Jeff Smoker, and Will Grier. And now Andy Dalton joins the team after nine seasons as a starter for the Bengals to backup Dak Prescott.
But there’s more than that. The Cowboys have also brought in two former quarterbacks who are looking to start their coaching careers. Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien have been around the team as practices have started up. While Wallace is apparently only around for training camp, Tolzien is labeled as a coaching assistant who will be helping Nussmeier with the quarterbacks.
Former NFL QB Seneca Wallace has joined the Cowboys quarterback room as a coach for training camp. He played for Mike McCarthy in Green Bay in 2013. Others often in that room: QB assistant Scott Tolzien, QB coach Doug Nussmeier, OC Kellen Moore, McCarthy— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 16, 2020
Neither Wallace nor Tolzien are household names, but fans with strong memories will recognize them from their very brief moments in the spotlight during their playing careers. However, both men have a lot to offer to this coaching staff and, more specifically, the quarterbacks, as Moore and Mike McCarthy try to synthesize an offense out of their two philosophies.
Earlier we took a look at the philosophical connection between McCarthy and Moore and how that will tie their offense together, and both Wallace and Tolzien can serve as sounding boards for Prescott, as well as the other quarterbacks, as he embraces this new offense. While Moore will be retaining a lot of key elements of last year’s offense, McCarthy is introducing a lot of West Coast principles of his own. Both Wallace and Tolzien have extensive knowledge of this philosophy from their playing days, which will come in handy.
For Wallace, he was in the league for a full ten years and played almost exclusively in a West Coast offense. For the first seven years of his career, Wallace was in Seattle as the primary backup to Matt Hasselbeck. There, Wallace played for head coach Mike Holmgren, a coaching legend in the 90’s. Holmgren had spent seven seasons as the head coach of the Packers, guiding Brett Favre and a potent offense to the playoffs for six straight years and a Super Bowl victory.
Prior to his tenure as Packers head coach, Holmgren served directly under Bill Walsh, first as the quarterbacks coach and later as offensive coordinator for the 49ers. Prior to that, he coached quarterbacks at BYU, most notably Steve Young, and also met then-offensive tackle Andy Reid. Holmgren’s deep understanding of Walsh’s West Coast served him well in Green Bay, and when he left to take the same job in Seattle (plus general manager duties), he had success there too, although never winning a championship.
While Wallace only played in 48 games during his seven years in Seattle under Holmgren, he was a constant presence on the sideline working with Holmgren, Hasselbeck, and the offensive staff, and he knows the intricacies of the offense well.
After his time in Seattle was up, Wallace spent two seasons in Cleveland. As is tradition for the Browns, Wallace’s two years were with two different coaching staffs. In his first year, the offense was run by Brian Daboll. As a disciple of Bill Belichick, Daboll incorporated the terminology of the Erhardt-Perkins offense - which places an emphasis on listing the play concepts instead of assigning digits to certain parts of each play - into the West Coast approach. This is something similar to what Moore did in Dallas last season, although it’s unclear if the verbiage has changed under McCarthy.
The next year, Wallace played under head coach Pat Shurmur, who also called the plays. Shurmur began his NFL coaching career under Andy Reid in Philadelphia, and his close relation to that variant of the West Coast was a big reason why the Browns, who had recently hired Holmgren as team president, picked him as their next head coach. Shurmur’s offense sought to maximize use of 11 personnel, although the Browns roster at the time made that a little complicated.
After Shurmur’s first year on the job, Holmgren left the front office and so did Wallace. With his playing career winding down, Wallace landed in Green Bay with McCarthy, another descendant of the Walsh coaching tree from his time with the Pitt Panthers. Wallace ended up starting a game in November of the 2013 season after Aaron Rodgers left with an injury the previous week, but Wallace left the game with a season-ending injury of his own. While this ultimately marked the end of Wallace’s career, it also brought about the NFL debut for his now-coworker, Scott Tolzien.
Tolzien didn’t enjoy as long of a career as Wallace, unfortunately. Undrafted out of Wisconsin in 2011, he was cut by the Chargers in the preseason and caught on as the third-string quarterback for Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers. After two years, Tolzien was another preseason cut, which led to him going to Green Bay.
It was Wallace’s injury in that November game when Tolzien saw his first game action. He didn’t play too well, and was benched after two starts for Matt Flynn, who had just been acquired. Remaining as the Packers’ third-string quarterback, Tolzien attempted just one pass between the 2014 and 2015 seasons before becoming a free agent.
Tolzien ended up with the Colts as Andrew Luck’s primary backup for 2016 and 2017. Joe Philbin, a close friend and colleague of McCarthy’s, was the newly-hired assistant head coach and offensive line coach in Indianapolis, and while he hadn’t been in Green Bay when Tolzien played there, that connection likely played a role in his signing. Tolzien only saw action in four games with the Colts before retiring, but his familiarity within McCarthy and Philbin’s systems should make him a valuable coaching asset in Dallas, where he reunites with both men.
Tolzien also spent the 2019 season as an analyst for the Wisconsin Badgers, who finished 10-4 while sending four players - including Cowboys rookie Tyler Biadasz - to the NFL.
Neither Wallace nor Tolzien are likely to figure too much into the actual game-planning for the Cowboys offense in 2020, but their experiences as backups working almost exclusively within the West Coast offense should pay dividends for the Cowboys’ crop of quarterbacks as they adjust to the new coaching staff. Wallace and Tolzien offer a pair of voices to give further insight to Prescott on how the offense runs, which will be beneficial.
After all, the only other coach on this team with recent experience playing quarterback is Moore, who never played in a strict West Coast system. Having the relevant experience of Wallace and Tolzien is big, especially during the scheme installation periods the team is rolling out now.