Listed at 6-2, 210 pounds, Hines is blessed with the size of a linebacker and the athletic ability of a defensive back. While his attributes might make him ill-equipped to play either position at a top-flight level, they make him perfect for a niche role within the Ohio State defense.
They make him a "star," and that is a characteristic that is prized among high school recruits according to OSU safeties coach Paul Haynes.
"Those are hard guys (to get) and what makes them hard is everybody wants them," Haynes said. "If you don't have them right here in your backyard, it's tough to go get them because those are usually the highly recruited guys. If they're not here in Ohio, the top schools in those states are recruiting them."
When the Buckeyes bring an extra defensive back into the game, that player is the star. A combination linebacker/safety who can drop into coverage or rush the quarterback, the position is typically bestowed upon the team's best defender. In past year, the likes of Mike Doss and Donte Whitner have manned the star position.
This year, thanks to both his own play and a series of injuries and incidents, Hines has elevated himself to a position where Haynes has labeled him as the first-team star.
That designation is thanks to the fact that, given the opportunity to be the team's starter, Hines has not let go of the role.
"He's an instinctive football player," head coach Jim Tressel said. "He played all three linebacker positions last year without much instruction, he knew what he was doing. Jermale is going to be a good player."
Although there were questions about where, there was little discussion about when the Buckeyes thought Hines would be able to help them. As a freshman, he missed the first five games while waiting out an academic situation before being cleared to play for the sixth week of the season.
The coaches immediately inserted him into the lineup, showing their belief in his natural athletic abilities, Tressel said.
Entering the season, Hines was set to split time with sophomore Tyler Moeller, another player described by Haynes as a "tweener." Moeller suffered a leg injury, however, giving Hines all the snaps at the spot.
That came in addition to the fact that junior free safety Kurt Coleman suffered a leg injury and gave way to Hines in the starting lineup for the first two games of the season. It all added up to a situation where Hines said he did not feel like he had a set spot to occupy.
"I'm still bouncing here and there," he said after OSU's 28-10 victory against Troy on Sept. 20. "I'm just playing football and doing what I'm asked."
With Coleman's return to health, he has reclaimed his starting role and allowed Hines to concentrate solely upon the star position. During the win against Troy, Hines earned a start as the Buckeyes primarily utilized their nickel defense.
"He's a physical guy," Coleman said. "He's caught on to the safety role pretty well. Every time he'd come to the sidelines I'd coach him up and tell him what I saw and he's go back and do well. He's good to coach. He takes coaching real well."
According to Haynes, however, Hines is not the type of player who needs much coaching.
"He's got great football instincts," he said. "He's got great size. He can run, but his football instincts are incredible. There's a lot of times where you might not tell him something, but he'll just do it naturally. That's the big thing he brings to the table.
"It's amazing that you just sit there and think, ‘That's exactly what I wanted him to do.' He does it without you telling him."
When searching for players to fill the role Hines currently occupies, Haynes said the coaches do not necessarily look for linebackers or defensive backs with the thought of converting them. Rather, they often pinpoint quarterbacks with size who will not play that position in college.
Through the first four games, Hines is tied for eighth on the team with 10 tackles including one tackle for loss. He also has a fumble recovery and one pass breakup that, had he caught the pass throw directly into his chest, would have gone for a touchdown.
Hines is also tied for second on the team with 18 Buckeye leaves on his helmet.
"I love the guy," sophomore defensive end Thaddeus Gibson said. "He's a great player. He's out there working every day and practicing and spending time in the film room and it shows out there on the field. You can put him at Sam linebacker, at safety, at free safety. Whatever it is, he'll play it."
But according to Haynes, it is what he does that does not appear on the stat sheet that truly shows his importance.
"Those are the guys you need," Haynes said. "As far as matchups, it's tough for a receiver to block him because he is a big, strong guy, but he is athletic enough to cover. Those are definitely the type of guys that you would love if you had a bunch of them."
Asked to evaluate himself, Hines said he still has plenty of room to improve.
"I don't really think I nailed it down," he said of the starting star spot. "I've still got a lot of work to do. I'm shooting to be perfect, so I've still got a lot of work to do. I have to work on my man-to-man coverage a little bit, reading plays and little things like that."
Through four games, though, he appears to be off to a pretty good start.