Mike Hull, LB, (6-foot, 219 pounds)
Although Hull got a look at safety to starter his career — a similar path taken early on by former linebackers like LaVar Arrington, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges — he was quickly shifted back to linebacker during last season's preseason camp. "He's a natural linebacker," one observer said. "I think he could play safety, but he fits the linebacker mold (Ron) Vanderlinden has."
The initial move to safety was to not only to "test him" at the position, given the significant depth of the linebacker unit, but was also to work his read-react coverage skills. Hull saw scout team work through much of last year, but moved up to see some second-team work in practice for a period when Mauti was injured. But he never played in a game and maintained his redshirt.
Strength: Observers indicate that Hull's become stronger during the past season. "He's one of those guys who seems to enjoy the lifts — and that's not everyone." Though not the biggest guy, Hull has had no trouble handling the physical demands of the position. Then again, he was an outstanding high school wrestler, even when he moved up to heavyweight, so his ability to deftly deal with larger athletes hardly comes as a surprise.
Insticts: "He's got good instincts and aggression; they have him really working on his pursuit angles and finishing his tackles." Overall, observers continue to like his "nose for the ball" though. But simply finding the ball is not all Hull can do. He also excels at delivering hard hits once he arrives.
Approach: Hull has a hard-nosed approach and an aggressive streak that has impressed Vanderlinden, the position coach. He is not an overly vocal player on the field, at least he has not been so far. But that's not a problem for a redshirt freshman, since he is not necessarily being counted on for leadership just yet.
Speed: Said to be agile on his feet, Hull was recently clocked in the 40-yard dash at Penn State's underclassman Pro Day at a mid-4.4 (hand-timed). "I like his feet. Mike is quick off the blocks and runs strong." Observers feel Hull has a "strong first step" which "helps with his reactions."
Impact: Hull has spent most of the spring running second team at outside linebacker. Since the Lions are very deep at the positions, though, his most significant impact in 2011 may well be on special teams. Expect him to become the next fan favorite as a head-hunter on the coverage teams. And don't be surprised if he blocks a kick or two this season. Should injuries become a problem at linebacker this fall (as they did for a time last season), there will be little dropoff if Hull is asked to expand his role on the defense.