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Hartline separates from quarterback pack

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The race has only reached the midway point, but if there's an early leader in the battle for the starting quarterback position it's Mike Hartline.

The senior-to-be has distanced himself in the first two weeks of spring football practice and did nothing Saturday in the first major scrimmage of the year to let the underclassmen - Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski - overtake him.

"Mike Hartline is playing better than the other two young ones," head coach Joker Phillips said after Saturday's scrimmage. "All of it has to do with game-ready snaps. He's had a lot and he's played for two years around here. The two young ones have not played much."

Hartline was the first quarterback on the field Saturday, leading the first-unit offense down the field for a touchdown against the first-unit defense in just six plays. Hartline connected with wide receiver Randall Cobb to cap the drive and he never let up from there.

On the day, Hartline was 10-of-15 for 153 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

"I thought Mike Hartline did a really good job of getting us in the end zone and managing the team and making plays," Phillips said.

Hartline showed poise and leadership in the pocket, continually standing tall and connecting with his wide receivers despite pressure from the defensive line.

"I just planned on the first couple of days seeing how the knee feels and going as hard as I can and not hold back," Hartline said. "It's going well. I'm just trying to do the things that I need to. I need to try to take more of that leadership role and I feel like I have. When you do those type of things and you do everything right and you be accountable and make plays, it's easy to be a leader."

He coached up Newton and Mossakowski verbally when he was on the sidelines and it looks as if he has matured into a better leader after injuring his knee midway through last year. Hartline credited his experience for his success.

"I see (the players) all the time," Hartline said. "It's not a new group of people. They're here, they have playing experience and they're very athletic. The limits are endless."

Newton and Mossakowski did little to hurt themselves in the race, as both also threw the ball well. Newton finished 8-of-16 for 116 yards with two touchdowns and an interception and Mossakowski, despite being the victim of a few dropped balls, was 5-of-11 for 88 yards with a touchdown and two picks. 

Phillips said he liked the demeanor of all three quarterbacks.

"I thought the two young ones did some good things also, but they've got to protect the football," Phillips said. "Three of the interceptions were between the two young guys. They've got to protect the football for us. That's the thing that a quarterback has to do is make sure we don't have negative plays. I liked the way they bounced back and go their units in the end zone."

Although Hartline has the early lead, no quarterback decision has come and likely won't happen until the end of the spring at the earliest.

"If the separation is wide enough then we'll make a decision," Phillips said. "If it's not then we'll continue."

Full video of the three quarterbacks is below.

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