Hull ready to step in for Penn State at outside linebacker position
Bill O'Brien talked football with Mike Hull on Monday night, and the next day, he paid the Canon-McMillan graduate an interesting compliment.
“He's a football dude,” Penn State's first-year coach said.
If the definition of a football dude is a hard-nosed player with the smarts and skill set to move seamlessly among three linebacker positions and excel on special teams, then Hull indeed qualifies.
His value to the defense increases this week as he takes over at weakside outside linebacker for fifth-year senior Michael Mauti, who won't play in the regular-season finale against Wisconsin on Saturday after suffering a serious knee injury that likely includes tears of both his left ACL and MCL.
The loss of Mauti is a devastating one to Penn State since his value to the team transcends the tackles he piled up on a weekly basis. If anyone can soften the blow of losing Mauti, it is Hull.
The redshirt sophomore has seen his role expand as the season has progressed. Because of his ability to defend the pass, Hull had been sharing the inside linebacker spot with Glenn Carson before Mauti got hurt.
The coaches are confident the versatile Hull — who has played all three linebacker positions this season — can hold down Mauti's spot.
“He's really valuable, and he's a warrior,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said.
Hull showed that last Saturday, particularly after Mauti left the game.
He recorded a career-high 11 tackles and a sack in helping to slow down Indiana's fast-break offense enough for Penn State to cruise to a 45-22 win. The only question regarding Hull is where he will play next season.
Mauti and strongside outside linebacker Gerald Hodges will be lost to graduation, and Hull will be plugged into one of those positions. Roof said the 6-foot, 228-pound Hull has the potential to make as much of an impact as Mauti and Hodges, who leads Penn State with 102 tackles.
“I always thought I was capable of doing good things; it was just a matter of getting an opportunity,” Hull said. “I think I've really grown a lot this year just because of the opportunities and the snaps I've gotten.”
Hull has had an additional coach this week as Mauti has been a regular at practice.
“He's in the meetings and he'll be around,” O'Brien said of Mauti. “I think that's good in a lot of ways mentally for him. He can help Hull. Here's a guy who's a very instinctive player. Little tips can help Mike Hull in this game.”
It may well be one football dude passing one of Penn State' hallowed positions to another football dude and, in many ways, it is fitting.
Mauti helped convince Hull to stay at Penn State when the latter was wavering after the NCAA sanctioned the football program in July. And Hull will follow Mauti and Hodges in trying to maintain the excellence that connects linebackers from Jack Ham and Shane Conlan to LaVar Arrington and Paul Posluszny.
“He's going to go in there and play as hard as he can,” O'Brien said of Hull, “and it's going to be pretty fun to watch him play.”
Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.