Fall camp for a true freshman quarterback in the Southeastern Conference can make even the simplest of things seem difficult.
Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks used part of practice this week to try and school young signal callers Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski on clock management.
There was only one problem.
"They weren't looking at the play clock," Brooks said. "They were supposed to be looking at the play clock."
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Both Newton and Mossakowski were highly touted prep prospects who, when they signed in February, were given legitimate chances to come in and challenge returning starter Mike Hartline for the job in the fall.
But the first week of practice indicated that both rookies have a long way to go.
"They're playing like freshman quarterbacks," Brooks said. "They do some good things physically, but mentally they're lost right now."
The staff just completed the installation process of the offense with Newton and Mossakowski, and their heads are spinning.
"The offense is a lot harder than I expected," Mossakowski said. "It's just beyond my mind right now. I've got a lot of learning to do. But that's what practice is for, to learn from your mistakes."
"It's a little rough at the beginning," Newton said. "There's a lot more you have to know, and it's coming at you a lot faster. It's not easy, but you just have to pick up as much as you can and try and learn as much as you can."
A human highlight reel at Carmel (Ind.) High School, Newton is often getting caught in the middle of trying to make something happen and working within the scheme of the offense.
"You consider yourself a guy who's a playmaker, and you want to try and do things to be successful," Newton said. "But right now, you have to go over your reads and progressions and go through everything so you can know the offense thoroughly. I'm trying to learn as much as I can while at the same time making some plays."
Newton was able to digest a good portion of the offense during December bowl practices and was also around during spring practice, but studying a playbook isn't the same as going out and executing.
"It's a world of difference," Newton said. "You might learn it and know it, but then you have to see it and go out and do it. You just have to get your reps and get accustomed to going through it and making the right reads and getting into the right plays."
UK offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders had plenty of success with freshman quarterbacks during his days as a Tennessee assistant. Peyton Manning, Casey Clausen, Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer all had successful stints as rookies with Sanders teaching them.
Sanders said what Newton and Mossakowski are going through is no different than what Manning or any of the others went through during fall camp.
"You're throwing stuff at them, and the defense is adding new stuff, it's not long before you have a jumbled mess," Sanders said. "A confused player usually doesn't play very fast or up to his ability. You see flashes now, and once things get sorted out, then you really start to see it."
Hartline, a junior, will be the starter for the season-opening game against Miami University. If and when Newton and/or Mossakowski see the field will depend on how far they progress in the next couple of weeks.
"A quarterback in this offense, it's hard to come in and execute well right off the bat," Sanders said. "Peyton only started as a freshman because of injury, and we were real limited with him. And if you're going to play with a young guy, everybody else has to pick up their game: offense, defense, special teams."
In addition to the mental aspect, Mossakowski still has some physical hurdles to overcome. He underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right (throwing) shoulder last winter, and while he's been throwing and taking part in contact drills, his arm strength and velocity still aren't all the way back.
"It's still a work in progress; he's still got some healing to do," Sanders said. "Whenever you take three, four, five months off and haven't been throwing much, it's going to affect you."
Mossakowski, from Frisco, Texas, is hoping that his arm will be close to normal by the end of fall camp.
"There are days when it feels kind of tired and there's some tightness," Mossakowski said. "But I'm getting there. It's feeling better each day. It's going to take awhile, maybe a couple of more weeks. Once I get over that hump, I think I'll be fine."
Hartline said watching Newton and Mossakowski reminds him of his freshman days, when the veterans would give him some good-natured ribbing over some of his goof-ups.
"The good thing is those guys don't take it the wrong way," Hartline said. "We've all been there, and we all understand it's a learning process. You're going to make mistakes. It's how you respond to the mistakes. And both of the freshmen have had very positive attitudes out here."
Mossakowski has faith that Sanders will be able to put it all together.
"That's one of the reasons I came here," he said. "I think he's one of the best coaches in the country. He knows his stuff, and he knows what he's doing, so if we just hang in there and work hard, good things should happen."
Newton was also upbeat about the future.
"I think there's some light at the end of the tunnel," Newton said. "But I haven't quite seen it yet. I think there'll be a time where I'll figure everything out and be able to make plays and know everything that's going on."