SAN FRANCISCO When a 49ers receiver runs the wrong route, he quickly hears Scott Tolzien's voice in his earhole.
Just ask Brian Tyms, an undrafted rookie whose recent fade in the back of the end zone did not meet Tolzien's standard.
"You could hear him say, 'Run the route like you're ready to win the route!' " safety Donte Whitner recalled of the exchange. "He's a leader. He's not really a starting quarterback right now. But it's always guys like that that you see come along a couple years down the road."
That on-field command prompted the defensive backs to give Tolzien a lofty nickname: "Baby Drew Brees."
"He understands the reads," Whitner said. "We can rarely trick him on the back end from a defensive back's standpoint. And he knows where to go with the football. And that's first and foremost for a quarterback. And that's what he's doing."
Told of his moniker, Tolzien, 24, smiled but said it doesn't fit. At least not yet.
"I mean, Brees is someone that I look up to and admire like a lot of the quarterbacks in this league do," he said. "I'm happy for it, but I've got a long ways to go before I'm Drew Brees."
Tolzien showed Brees-ian efficiency Friday night against the Minnesota Vikings. He was the third 49ers quarterback into the preseason game and finished 10 of 13 for 84 yards with an interception.
Two incompletions, however, were blatant drops, including one by undrafted rookie Nathan Palmer that would have been a big gain. Tolzien's interception occurred when a defensive end crashed into him as he released the ball.
Tolzien is competing with Colin Kaepernick and Josh Johnson to be Alex Smith's backup this season. The 49ers likely will keep only three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster.
Coach Jim Harbaugh on Sunday said the quarterback depth chart could be reshuffled in Saturday's second exhibition game in Houston. He said Johnson could go in third and Tolzien fourth but that it would depend on how they perform in practice.
Tolzien's effort Friday didn't surprise his coach, who said the second-year quarterback has been efficient all offseason.
"He's been real accurate in practice, and he was accurate in the game," Harbaugh said. "He took command of the offense, really gets the ball out quick and makes some real accurate throws."
This was Tolzien's first offseason with the 49ers, and Friday was his first action in a San Francisco uniform. He was picked up as an undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin last year by the Chargers.
When the 49ers played San Diego in last year's preseason finale, Tolzien was 16 of 23 for 226 yards with a touchdown and an interception. As he watched Tolzien complete pass after pass against his defense, general manager Trent Baalke hoped San Diego would cut the quarterback and try to put him on its practice squad.
The Chargers did, and the 49ers pounced. Tolzien was their third quarterback last year but wasn't activated.
Since being picked up by the 49ers, he has been a fixture at team headquarters, even sleeping overnight in the players' lounge when he first arrived. He said his rookie year has given him a firmer standing among his teammates this season and a good knowledge of the playbook.
"A year under your belt makes all the difference in the world," he said. "It's no different than being a redshirt freshman in college, and then the next year you feel like you have a little bit more seniority."
And when Tolzien talks, receivers listen.
"He commands a lot of respect because people see the effort he puts into it," Harbaugh said. "The hours of study, the way he's on top of his business. When you know it like that, it commands respect from people."