The contrast could not have been more stark in last year's preseason finale. One of the contenders to be the 49ers' No. 3 quarterback, Josh Johnson, threw two touchdowns and looked like a starter-caliber NFL quarterback in finishing with 125 yards through the air and another 50 on the ground, despite splitting the second-half snaps.
The other quarterback, Scott Tolzien, was a couple of notches below ordinary, even against subpar competition. He underthrew receivers, had one attempt intercepted and finished with a 15.6 passer rating.
Yet when it came time to cut one of those players, Jim Harbaugh and co. said goodbye to Johnson and kept Tolzien. It was further evidence of just how much the 49ers coaches love Tolzien. And it was a lesson that more goes into roster decisions -- especially when it comes to the No. 3 quarterback -- than what happens on the field in exhibition games.
Tolzien has another fight on his hands this year, this time from rookie B.J. Daniels, and it should be one of the more interesting battles of training camp. Like Johnson last season, Daniels is far more mobile than Tolzien and has a stronger arm. In fact, Daniels looked a lot like Colin Kaepernick -- and even more like Seattle's Russell Wilson, who is similarly diminutive -- at times this spring in extending plays and gaining yards with his feet.
And he's not only a quarterback. The 5-10, 222-pound Daniels spent a lot of time in the backfield as a running back and even caught several short passes from Tolzien during practice. He also was one of the players given a chance to return punts.
It used to be that every NFL team kept three quarterbacks. The recent trend, however, is to keep two on the active roster and stash the third on the practice squad. Thirteen teams entered the 2012 season with just two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster.
Tolzien never has taken a snap in two seasons with the 49ers. That the 49ers have kept him around shows they feel he is valuable in other ways -- as another set of eyes to the starting quarterback and coaching staff, and as a work-a-holic who pushes everyone around him.
Daniels, however, gives the 49ers a luxury coaches dream of: He takes up only one roster spot but can fill a number of roles. At the very least, it seems he'd be an asset in the run-up to Sept. 15 and Dec. 8 when the 49ers must prepare for Wilson and the Seahawks.
Tolzien? Daniels? Both? (One on the practice squad). We'll find out in a month and a half.
-- Matt Barrows