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August 19, 2013Bill O'Brien doesn't typically mince words, so when he was asked about redshirt junior linebacker Mike Hull last week, he got straight to the point.
"Mike Hull is one of the best football players on our team," O'Brien said, flatly.
Through the first two weeks of Penn State's 2013 preseason practice, Hull has done everything to back up O'Brien's claim.
Constantly displaying the knack for making plays - whether it's quickly wrapping up a ball-carrier, picking up a fumble or snatching an interception - Hull has reportedly lived up to every expectation many in the program held for him as he fought for playing time behind both Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti.
"He is a fast guy, he's a tough guy, he's strong, he's got really good playing strength, he plays the run well, he's a good cover linebacker, he's a leader and he's a guy that means a lot to our football team," O'Brien said. "He didn't play a whole lot last year. I mean, he played, but not as much as you would think a guy like that because of who he backed up. He was backing up two NFL players."
Interestingly, Hull seems to have found a groove this season personally, too.
Asked about the differences between the 2012 preseason and this year's, Hull seemed to note a new comfort level with his own role on the team, as well as the overall shape of the program as it moves into its second year of NCAA sanctions.
'(There was) a lot of uncertainty about the future, but this year we know exactly what's going to happen and everything is set in stone," Hull said. "I'm at strongside linebacker. I'm definitely comfortable there. That's where I played all last year. I played Mike too, but I'm real comfortable with the position. I know just about everything there is that I need to know."
Of course, part of Hull's responsibility as one of the best players on the team is to remain healthy through the duration of the upcoming season.
Having participated in multiple full-contact preseasons with former head coach Joe Paterno, Hull said that having to stay on his feet - and maybe more important, keeping ball-carriers on their feet - has been somewhat of a challenging adjustment. But, true to form, the slight 'holding back' during this year's preseason has been very, very slight, it seems.
"We've gotta go out there and play as intense as possible at all times, but they're holding us back a little bit in practice, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, saving the necks and everything," he said. "(But), I don't think it will have an impact on us at all. We're still hitting the ball carrier real hard, we're just not taking him to the ground. It actually helps your fundamentals a little bit, I think."
Ready to use that knowledge and the fundamentals to his full advantage, Hull now has an opportunity to build on his 58 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 4 sacks, interception, two fumble recoveries, and his first career start to end last season.
"He is going to play a lot of ball for us this year," O'Brien said. "He's had a really good training camp."
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