UNIVERSITY PARK -- Zack Mills can relate better than just about anyone to what Penn State's four young quarterbacks are going through, and it's fascinating listening to him describe the difficulties that come with freshmen transitioning to college football.
For anyone who believes Paul Jones or Robert Bolden will be the Nittany Lions' starter this season, understand that physical talent is only one part of a multitude of factors that enable a freshman quarterback to become successful.
"As a freshman, I was just trying to get the basics down," said Mills, who redshirted his first year at PSU in 2000.
Zack Mills is now quarterbacks coach at Haverford School in Haverford, Pa.
The lefty then became the last freshman quarterback to start for the Lions the following year. Only two true freshmen have ever started for Joe Paterno -- Tony Sacca in 1988 and Wally Richardson in 1992 -- and the biggest reason for that has little to do with JoePa's hesitancy to play freshmen.
"It's ultimately a very difficult thing to do," Mills said by phone Thursday.
There are many reasons why.
The Mirror will provide a detailed look at quarterback frontrunners Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin, as well as Neil Rudel's commentary on how much uncertainty the Lions face entering the season and the statewide media's predictions on PSU's record.
"In high school, you might see three or four different looks [on defense] and a couple different combinations per team," Mills said. "In college, you've got tons of looks, disguised coverages, you've got zone blitzes, the whole deal. So everything they're seeing is probably somewhat new to them.
"Hat's off to them if they're able to come in and play, but it's not that often you see a freshman come in and do very well."
The first-year quarterbacks are seeing how much bigger, faster and stronger college players are than their high school opponents. And the speed of the game?
"That's the first thing you notice when you go out there in the summertime and do 7-on-7 drills," Mills said. "Everything happens a split second before what you were dealing with at the high school level."
Jones arrived on campus in January, so he's had spring drills and the summer to pick things up. Bolden didn't get to campus until the summer because his high school wouldn't allow him to graduate early, a noble if not somewhat outdated philosophy for college recruits.
Both Jones and Bolden are said to have rifle arms. OK, fine. But this isn't a contest to see who can throw the hardest or be most accurate.
No matter how good their arms are, it's their heads that are being put to the biggest test right now in preseason camp.
"The offense was a lot more complicated than what I did in high school," Mills said.
Penn State's playbook is probably massive compared to what the quarterbacks used in high school. The coaches ease them in by teaching a little bit each day.
"They do small stuff in packages," Mills said. "So starting day one, they'll put in a bulk of plays. Day two, they'll put some more in, and day three [and so on].
"Before you know it, you're seven days in and you've got seven days worth of stuff. Then they'll go back to all the stuff on day one or two, and you've got to remember what's going on."
To recap so far, the physical differences and cramming sessions are very difficult adjustments to make. But that's hardly all.
"It's just another level of maturity that needs to come along very quickly," Mills said. "When you're watching film or you're out on the practice field, you need to mentally put yourself to be in that starter's shoes.
"Literally, as he's dropping back, you're reading what's going on and figuring out about throwing the ball wherever you need to throw it."
Even if the freshmen master the physical differences, learn quickly and are mentally focused, there's one negative aspect they simply have no control over.
The coaching staff has a limited amount of it to decide who will be the starter for the season opener, and having four guys competing makes the process difficult.
In the next few days, one quarterback will be eliminated from the starter's race -- for the opener at least. Put a 90 percent certainty that the one will be either Jones or Bolden, mainly because Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin have more practice experience and the coaches already know more about what they're capable of.
A few days after the first decision, another quarterback will be out of the mix and the competition will be down to two. If Jones or Bolden are not in the top two then, they may not get many opportunities to showcase themselves in practice throughout the course of the season.
"The starter is going to get most of the reps, and if you're the second guy you're going to get some reps," Mills said. "But as the third guy, you're not getting much at all."
So essentially, Jones and Bolden will have about 10 days to two weeks in preseason camp to show what they can do, convince the coaches they are physically and mentally prepared, learn everything they need to learn and play better than two guys who have been in the program for at least a year longer (McGloin two years longer).
"Truthfully, I wanted to redshirt," Mills said looking back on his career. "I don't think I was ready to play, and I think redshirting was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. It gave me more time to get adjusted to the game."
If Jones or Bolden can adjust that quickly, congratulations to them, and we may see one of them in a starting role this season.
But the odds of that happening are slim.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or email@example.com.