Twelve Days — QBs

Our 12 Days of Christmas breakdown of the Penn State football program continues with the passers, who absorbed more than their share of punishment in 2004.

MAKING A LIST, CHECKING IT TWICE: Use your imagination on this one. If Penn State’s Zack Mills had been a NASCAR competitor, he would have been the poor sap with no logo on his car, being lapped early in the race by the hot shots with corporate sponsorships and state of the art equipment.

Though he finished his career with practically every PSU passing record, it is difficult to judge Mills against State’s great QBs. Were his numbers so impressive because -- outside of 2002 -- during his four years as a starter the Lions had to throw like crazy because they had no running game to speak of and they often trailed? Or would he have been even more spectacular with an outstanding supporting cast?

The guess here? The numbers would have been lower and the winning percentage higher if Mills had had more NFL-caliber talent around him. Mills doesn’t have the arm strength to be a surefire professional player. But he had more than enough talent to be a top QB in the Big Ten.

Speaking of NFL potential, backup Michael Robinson seems destined to become the latest Nittany Lion with pro potential to be badly mishandled by the PSU coaching staff (following Matt Kranchick and Eddie Drummond and Omar Easy and Kenny Watson and ... well, you get the picture).

With terrific arm strength and speed, as well as a great head for the game, there is no doubt he could have been a dangerous quarterback had he devoted all his time to playing that position. But once the staff started moving him around early in his career, that dream was over. Through no fault of his own, Robinson never developed the instincts needed to QB a major college team, as evidenced by his extremely low 55.33 passer rating in 2004. For perspective, Mills checked in with a 113.9 rating, which was only good for eighth in the Big Ten.

And speaking of mishandling players, the coaches did it with true freshman Anthony Morelli, as well. They played him in a pair of early blowout wins -- wasting his redshirt -- then parked him on the bench for the next month and a half, even though Mills and Robinson both missed significant game action due to injuries. Is it any wonder he looked a bit overwhelmed when he finally made it back on the field?

WHO WAS NAUGHTY: The knuckleheads who booed Mills during the season.

WHO WAS NICE: Mills will go down as one of the classiest acts in program history. Some fans turned on him midway through the season, but he never let it get to him. It was nice to see everyone rally behind him in the season finale against Michigan State.

UNDER THE TREE: It is difficult to imagine any of the new faces -- redshirt freshman Paul Cianciolo (check), prep school product Darryl Clark or (potentially) grayshirt Kevin Suhey moving past Morelli. Suhey is likely to wind up at safety.

Keep an eye on another redshirt frosh in the spring. Jordan Lyons saw action in two games at tight end last season before redshirting with an injured shoulder. Lyons was a star QB in high school.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION: Move Robinson to receiver full time and allow Morelli to grow into the talent everyone feels he’ll become. State should also consider bringing on an experienced QB coach. We like Jay Paterno’s energy, but in five years at this spot we haven’t seen anyone consistently improve under his direction.

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