STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Shotgun snaps were becoming a problem during Penn State's scrimmage Monday at Holuba Hall.
One, two, three, four snaps sailed away from quarterback Rob Bolden. When the offense huddled for the next play, Bolden had a message for his center.
"He went right over and said, 'Hey, that's four. You better cut that out,'" quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said. "[Bolden] would not have done that last year."
When Matt McGloin's turn came to run the offense, the center was late on the snap count. McGloin told his teammate, "Hey, you're the center. You better know the snap count. It's the first thing you better know."
Although McGloin's gesture isn't quite as surprising given his spunky personality, it illustrates the new authority both he and Bolden are displaying this spring. After splitting time during the 2010 season -- Bolden started the first seven games and McGloin led the offense for the final six -- the two quarterbacks once again are competing for the No. 1 job. Kevin Newsome and Paul Jones also are in the mix, but Bolden and McGloin have separated themselves.
The spring competition has a decidedly different tone than the one Bolden won in August, when he quickly distanced himself from his competitors and became the first Penn State freshman quarterback to start a season opener in 100 years. Despite ups and downs throughout the fall, both quarterbacks benefited from the playing time and no longer are acting like novices when running the offense.
"The leadership has evolved much better that we had hoped," Paterno said. "We talked about how that's got to come out of this room. I'm really, really encouraged, and I think we have a chance to be strong in that position in performance and leadership."
The subplot to Penn State's quarterback race is Bolden's future. He asked for his release from the program after the Outback Bowl, which coach Joe Paterno denied.
Bolden seemed happy during winter workouts -- "He looked like a guy who was out to prove something to his teammates, to his coaches, to anybody," Jay Paterno said -- but before spring ball he left the door open for a possible departure. Bolden felt he deserved more playing time in 2010 after recovering from a concussion, and both Paternos acknowledged they should have used the freshman more down the stretch.
How does the Bolden saga end?
"The minute I predict something, I'm probably going to be wrong," Jay Paterno said with a laugh. "The best situation for him is going to be to stay here and compete. He knows who his competition is, he's got friends on the team. The one thing a lot of guys don't realize when they transfer is you have to gain acceptance from the guys at the new school, especially at quarterback."
Despite Bolden's near departure in January, his teammates are standing behind him this spring.
"He's only worried about one thing, and that's winning the starting spot," cornerback D'Anton Lynn said. "As far as him leaving, we can't tell any signs of that right now. He seems fully engaged in everything going on."
McGloin also remains locked into the race. After providing a spark in wins against Michigan, Northwestern and Indiana, the former walk-on ended the season on a down note, throwing five interceptions in the bowl loss to Florida.
For some, McGloin's bowl struggles reinforced the need to play Bolden more. McGloin took some heat from fans after the bowl, but the junior has maintained his swagger.
"He's a very confident kid," Paterno said. "You cannot tell him he can't do something. He's one of those guys who believes in himself to the utmost, and the other guys sense that."
Penn State named Bolden as its Game 1 starter two days before kickoff. While it's unlikely the coaches will wait that long this time around, the competition isn't over.
"We've bounced it around about maybe [making a decision] right after spring," Paterno said. "We talked about waiting till August, but that's something we're still discussing. Coming out of spring, at the very least we'll be down to two that are in it. But we're further ahead than we thought we'd be."