“There is no doubt in my mind that I'm one of the three best linebackers on the team,” Hull said during a conference call Wednesday. “I'll be disappointed if I don't have a starting job in the fall. I definitely expect myself to be a starter.
“There's a little bit of uncertainty of where I'm going to be starting,” he added. “But there is no uncertainty of whether I'll be a starter.”
That does not seem to be such a bold proclamation from a man who started every game at middle linebacker for the Nittany Lions last season. But that was when All-America candidate Sean Lee was out while rehabbing a torn ACL.
Lee is back practicing on a limited basis this spring and expects to be full go in time for the preseason. Hull explained that the two split snaps during passing drills this spring, while Lee heads to the sideline for running drills and scrimmages. Head coach Joe Paterno has indicated that Lee is being limited largely for precautionary reasons, so all signs point to him emerging as the first-team middle linebacker in the fall.
Where does that leave Hull? As of Wednesday morning, returning All-Big Ten pick Navorro Bowman was running first team at strong-side outside linebacker and sophomore Michael Mauti was starting as weak-side OLB. But Bowman has just gotten tangled up in another legal mess. And Mauti has never started a game.
Hull said he thinks his edge comes from “experience -- I've been around the game and I don't make mistakes. I'm reading formations well. I think the biggest improvement I've made this spring is my vision.” That vision, he explained, is allowing him to play faster.
“I'm going to be one of the 11 guys on the defense,” he said.
Even so, Hull, a former walk-on, knows how well Penn State has recruited at linebacker the past few years. He welcomes the competition.
“The reason Penn State is [called] 'Linebacker U.' is because you get great linebackers in here every year,” he said. “If there were only one or two guys, everyone wouldn't be pushing everyone.”
Hull said as many as seven different linebackers are “good enough” to make runs at starting jobs. Yet when a reporter suggested that could make for a strong platoon system, Hull wasted little time stating that he has no interest in sharing a spot.
“As of right now, I don't know how it is going to shake out,” he said. “But I am going in with the mindset that I'm going to be a starter and play the entire game. I want to prove to everyone that this kid belongs here and deserves to be the starter.”