PSU's Mike LB Speaking Up

Veteran linebacker Hull is stationed at a new position, one that is requiring him to be more vocal this spring.

Mike Hull has a new position, middle linebacker, meaning that among other things Penn State's rising senior must be more vocal - that he must do a reasonable impersonation of a certain former teammate.

As he said during a conference call with reporters recently, “Really I'm trying to get to the point (Mike) Mauti was at - expecting a lot out of guys, letting them know, just being intense and vocal out there every single time.”

He's attempting to do that as the entire program undergoes an extreme makeover under new coach James Franklin - as it adopts “an SEC mentality,” according to Hull. Which figures, since Franklin and all but one of his assistants came from Vanderbilt.

Hull described that mentality as “being aggressive (and) competitive every single drill” during spring practice. Everything is “no-holds-barred,” he said. Everything is high energy. It is something several other Nittany Lions have mentioned.

But really, the changes go much deeper than that. In Hull's estimation Franklin has touched virtually every aspect of the program, and every player within it.

Hull was not the least bit critical of Bill O'Brien, but he did call him “a pro-style coach - kind of (emphasizing that) as long as you took care of what you had to do on the field, just keep your nose clean off the field and do what you've got to do.”

It is different now.

“Coach Franklin, he really likes to be under control of everything,” Hull said. “He likes to make sure guys are going to class, every single day. He really puts a lot of emphasis on education and what you do off the field, as well as what you do on the field. I think that's been the biggest difference, but I think that's what Penn State needs right now, and I think it's going to be really great for the academic aspect, as well as the on-field aspect.”

Franklin has also tried to break down the wall between the players and well, everyone. Hull did not deny it was there, that after the NCAA sanctions were handed down in July 2012, the team adopted an “us-against-the-world mentality.”

And, he added, “We got really close-knit as a team, and we kind of just said we're going to take this upon ourselves; it doesn't really matter what happens. So I think there was a wall there, but I think he's … starting to break that wall down with a lot of guys on the team.”

There have been positional dinners and off-beat twists in practice.

“And,” Hull said, “I think everyone likes that he kind of lets us have some say in some stuff. I think that's probably the main thing that helps break those walls down.”

Hull, who has mostly played outside 'backer during his career, did see some time in the middle in 2012, when Ted Roof was the Lions' defensive coordinator. He was an effective playmaker off the bench that season, but somewhat less of a factor last season, when he suffered a knee injury in the opener against Syracuse, missed two games and was hampered in the rest. He finished with 61 tackles, second-most on the team, but was not the difference-maker he had hoped to be.

His goal for this season, he said, is to get back to making “more explosive plays,” while also making the defensive calls and yes, being like Mike (Mauti).

“I think that's the biggest thing, probably,” Hull said. “Last year I was a lead-by-example guy. That's kind of how I've been my whole career here - just work hard. But now I realize that I have to step up and talk and settle everyone where they need to be, and do what I've got to do to get the most out of everybody.”

Junior cornerback Jordan Lucas has seen the difference in Hull now that he is at middle linebacker.

“That's definitely forcing him to be a little more vocal on defense, which is a great thing,” Lucas said. “He's talking every play. Every single play, you're hearing Mike Hull's voice.”

Hull said the new defensive scheme, installed by coordinator Bob Shoop and co-coordinator (and linebackers coach) Brent Pry, isn't all that different from the old one, though it does include the field linebacker, described by Hull as being “more like a safety hybrid.”

Whoever plays that position - and one of those being tried is converted running back Von Walker - will be responsible for underneath coverage, re-routing receivers, defending bubble screens and perimeter runs, etc.

Elsewhere in the 'backer corps, Hull has seen redshirt sophomore Gary Wooten respond favorably to the new staff and make “huge strides,” after playing little to this point in his career.

“It's unbelievable,” Hull said. “He's always had the physical tools to be great. He's just really putting it all together right now and just playing fast and physical. And I think that's really going to help the whole linebacker corps as a group.”

Hull wants to help, too. And he understands that in order to do that, he must talk a good game, in addition to playing one.

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