Mike Hull, LB, (6-foot, 220 pounds)
Hull initially kicked off his Penn State career at safety — a similar path taken early on by linebackers like LaVar Arrington, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges — however he was quickly shifted back to linebacker during last season's preseason camp.
Linebacker is viewed as his "natural position," and Hull "fits into what "Vandy [position coach Ron Vanderlinden] looks for" at linebacker. 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. He never played in a game and maintained his redshirt.
Attitude: Although it may sound cliche, Hull has been described as having the attitude of recent linebacker standouts Paul Posluszny and Sean Lee. "He's all business and focuses on whatever he can do to make the unit and team better," according to one observer. His passion for the game and program is also something often pointed to. "He just seems like he loves the game and realizes the opportunity. You don't hear him complain; he'll do whatever is asked of him. I think if they asked him to punt, he'd grab a ball and start practicing his kicks." Hull's father, Tom Hull, was an LB at Penn State in the early 1970s, just as the school's "Linebacker U" reputation was being developed. So Mike Hull has a clear understanding for what it means to play 'backer at PSU.
Strength: Hull displays "good power" and has improved his ability to shed blocks. "He's still working on the technique, but he's getting it." Hulls intensity and drive carry into the weight room, too. He's "often one of the first to arrive and last to leave." His experience as a wrestler in high school also helps him use leverage to handle larger blockers. Hull is obviously not the biggest linebacker, but he compensates for that lack of size with great instincts, a fearless mentality and a bit of a mean streak.
Instincts: His "nose for the ball" is among his biggest assets. "He gets to the ball and has been improving his angles (this off-season)." Hull has been focused on his "take-down" and "wrap-up" techniques with. He can "really deliver a big hit."
Approach: Hull has a hard-nosed approach and an aggressive streak that has impressed Vanderlinden. 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 looked at for leadership just yet, especially with veterans like Mauti, Hodges and Nate Stupar in the mix.
Speed: Clocked in the 40-yard dash at a mid-4.4 (hand-timed) at Penn State's underclassman pro day, Hull's got a "fast first step" and has shown an all-around quickness. His instincts help with this as well.
Impact: Hull 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 drop-off if Hull is asked to expand his role on the defense.