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April 14, 2014

Shoop sees big future for Hull inside

Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop had an answer before the question was finished.

Saturday afternoon, his Nittany Lions celebrating the finish of spring practice following the Blue-White Game, Shoop sat at the podium in Beaver Stadium's media room to assess his defense leading into the summer months.

Specifically, having shifted the leader of the unit - fifth-year senior Mike Hull - from outside linebacker into the middle, the question of judging the transition and whether the move was made out of necessity or would be revisited upon this summer prompted a definitive answer from the well-spoken coach.

"I think it's the right move, and no," Shoop said. "He's the quarterback of our defense. He's going to be our middle linebacker."

Certainly, with Hull listed at 6-feet, 232 pounds, Shoop understood the question of Hull's size in relation to the position.

Typically reserved for bigger linebackers capable of mixing it up in traffic - as opposed to maybe more athletic linebackers playing in space - Hull's shift is at once curious and completely logical. As Shoop pointed out, as the unit's undisputed leader not just among the linebackers but also the entire defense, Hull clearly presented himself as the best option for the position this spring.

"Mike is the undisputed leader of the group. He and Glenn (Carson) split time a couple of years ago at the middle linebacker position," Shoop said. "Last year, I think putting the best players on the field, they moved him to the field and had Glenn in the middle and did some different things at the Will linebacker and they used Stephen (Obeng-Agyapong) in some different ways that I thought was really creative on their part.

"But, Mike is the leader. He's the quarterback of the defense."

The change, though something Hull has acknowledged necessitates an improvement in his vocal leadership, hasn't impacted the play-making knack the Canonsburg, Pa., native has shown throughout his career with the Nittany Lions.

Routinely popping up to make plays at exactly the right moment, Hull's injuries through the 2013 season somewhat prevented the type of year he'd hoped for. But now, back at 100 percent, Hull showed Shoop just the type of player he's capable of being.

"I think he's really been one of our top play-makers," Shoop said. "You watch the film on him. He got hurt against Syracuse in the opening game. You watch him and you're thinking, 'All right. How will he be in the middle?' You're trying to assess that.

"He's so humble and he's so modest. I say, 'Mike, what percentage were you playing at last year?'

"'I don't know, coach, I should have been able to make more plays.'

"Then you talk to Tim Bream and people and you get the impression that he was probably playing at 75 percent a lot of the time. He's come back and done a really good job. He's been very diligent in February and March as a leader in the weight room and in the winter program and getting with me personally to watch a lot of film and learn the package. And in the spring, he exceeded what I had hoped."

Generally excited about the two incoming true freshmen that will arrive on Penn State's campus this summer - Troy Reeder and Jason Cabinda - as well as the summer play of Gary Wooten, Shoop still sees big things ahead for Hull this season, regardless of his atypical size for the position.

"He and I talked a lot about, we've watched a lot of Luke Kuechly film. I've talked to him about guys like Zach Thomas, who wasn't the biggest middle linebacker, Sam Mills, people who maybe don't fit the prototype of that position, but he has quick feet," Shoop said. "Pound for pound, he's one of the strongest guys in the field and he's an extremely football intelligent person."

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