LB Hull sounding off now

Playing middle linebacker at Linebacker U comes with many responsibilities, one of which is being able to lead the rest of the defensive players in a multitude of ways.

Mike Hull admits he’s always been a lead-by-example guy, but that’s not enough as he takes over as Penn State’s starting middle linebacker. He has to be more of a vocal leader now, and Hull has been getting used to that this spring.

“He’s talking every play,” cornerback Jordan Lucas said. “Every single play you hear Mike Hull’s voice, letting us know what the call is, putting the defensive line in the right shifts.”

It’s not enough to just handle his own responsibilities on each play, and Hull is embracing the challenge of being the vocal leader for everyone else.

“Now I realize that I have to step up and talk and set everybody where they need to be and do what I’ve got to do to get the most out of everybody,” Hull said. “That’s probably the hardest transition to the middle.

“I’m trying to get to the point where [Michael] Mauti was at, expecting a lot out of guys, letting them know and just being vocal out there every single time,” Hull added. “I think I’ve learned a lot even since spring ball started on how to be a vocal leader out there, and I think it’s really starting to show and take off.”

Whatever he’s done, Hull has made a great first impression with new coach James Franklin.

“Mike Hull has played extremely well,” Franklin said Saturday.

Hull was widely considered one of the best players on the team last year, but he was hampered most of season by a knee injury he suffered in the opener against Syracuse. He missed the next two games and was never quite back to 100 percent the rest of the season.

If Penn State’s defense is to improve on last year’s historically bad numbers – three straight games allowing 40 or more points, giving up 63 to Ohio State – then Hull will have to stay healthy and on the field. That’s because Linebacker U doesn’t anywhere near the kind of depth or experience that it has enjoyed for so long.

Glenn Carson played the middle linebacker spot last year, and while serviceable, he lacked the kind of big-play abilities a team would like from that position. Hull has those skills, when healthy, and moving to the middle will allow him more freedom to ballhawk and try to make by plays.

“He’s allowed to have much more freedom this year, and he can just play,” Lucas said. “When he sees an opening he can go.”

Hull said the main thing he’s working on in his game is to “just be more explosive, make more explosive plays and keep good body positioning.”?His knee, he added, prevented him from being able to do that last season.

Hull isn’t entirely new to the middle linebacker spot, having played there some two years ago under former defensive coordinator Ted Roof. That was with Bill O’Brien at the helm, and now Hull will finish his career playing for a fourth head coach (also Joe Paterno and Tom Bradley as interim in 2011).

Hull said Franklin and his staff have done “a great job of building relationships and letting us know their expectations of us.” Franklin, he noted, likes to be in control of everything more than O’Brien, plus the new coaching staff has impressed the players with its passion and drive.

“The intensity and overall energy that they have, they bring it every single day,” Hull said. “Whether it’s a 5:30 a.m. workout, a 2:45 practice, they do a great job getting us pumped up every single drill.”