In Penn State's overall defensive statistics breakdown from the 2013 season, linebacker Glenn Carson sits at the top with 90 total tackles.
Picked up by the Arizona Cardinals as a high priority undrafted free agent this spring, the veteran has left a projected starting trio of Mike Hull, Nyeem Wartman and Brandon Bell to fill the void. Already thin across the unit, the loss of the only other returner with much experience, Ben Kline, to a season-ending Achilles injury this summer makes the group that much more tenuous.
Yet, for all of the deserved handwringing attached to seemingly any and all forecasts for the linebacking corps in the upcoming season, Hull remains optimistic.
Named to the Butkus Award preseason watch list Monday, Hull cited his own personal improvements between his first and second years in the program in 2011 and 2012, and related those steps to what he's now seeing in both Wartman and Bell this offseason.
"(Nyeem) has improved a lot from last year. A really vocal guy, does a great job getting lined up, getting everyone aware of what they're supposed to do around them," he said. "I think he's going to take off this year honestly.
"Last year was like a learning curve for him, getting out there, getting the experience and in your second year, that's when you see the most improvement in a player."
Playing in only 10 games a year ago due to a knee injury that came perilously close to ending Hull's season just 10 plays into the first game against Syracuse, Hull managed to finish the campaign with a second-best 78 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, half a sack and a forced fumble.
Though Stephen Obeng-Agyapong acted as a third linebacker in John Butler's pass-defense heavy scheme, increased production accompanied increased playing time for Bell as the season progressed. In fact, in November alone Bell recorded two-thirds of his season tackle total, capped by a 6-tackle performance at Wisconsin.
Now, with the addition of true freshman linebackers Jason Cabinda and Troy Reeder to the unit this summer, Hull, Wartman and Bell are playing mentors to a pair that will have little choice but to be ready for action this season.
"We have like a big brother program. Nyeem takes care of Troy and I take care of Cabinda," Hull said. "We're just making sure they learn their positions, stay clean off the field and it's been really good working with those guys. Both guys are really talented, big guys. They can stop the run it looks like, and we're going to need them to play so we're going to have to get them up to speed as quickly as possible."
With Reeder and Cabinda weighing in at an impressive 244 and 248 pounds, respectively, Hull noted their physical preparation for the season ahead.
"They're good. They're plenty big to play," Hull said. "They got all the size they need, so as soon as they get the schemes down and everything, I think they'll be good to go to help us.