Penn State Football: Mondays are for Meeting of the Minds of LB Hull, D-Coordinator Shoop
Under James Franklin, Mondays this fall will be an off-day for Penn State’s football players.
But not so for Mike Hull.
That’s the day the fifth-year senior middle linebacker has a standing appointment with defensive coordinator Bob Shoop in the coach’s second-floor office of Lasch Building.
Forget Tuesdays with Morrie. Try Mondays with Shoopie.
“Mondays I’ll meet with him individually and go over the game plan,” Hull said Saturday, prior to the Lift for Life event.
“We’ll break down what kind of defenses I like and don’t like, and what he likes and doesn’t like vs. the next opponent. I think that’s why he had so much success at Vanderbilt. The middle linebacker there really knew what Shoop was thinking on the field.”
Shoop is installing a defense that attacks with a fervor, especially from the linebacker spots. Hull couldn’t be happier about that.
“We are going to be attacking and blitzing more,” Hull said. “Maybe some zone presses and using the safeties as outside linebacker at times.”
By September, the Monday meetings will be old hat. Shoop and Hull are already getting together three times per week this summer. They’re taking advantage of a new NCAA rule that permits up to eight hours of player-coach interaction.
“It’s just usually just him and me,” Hull said. “We brainstorm a couple of ideas, see what kind of defenses I like, see what kind of schemes fit me. I think it will really help the defense, obviously.
At Vanderbilt, Shoop guided a defense that over its final five games in 2013 yielded only 15.6 points per game, include a combined 27 vs. Florida and Tennessee. Prior to his three years at Vanderbilt, Shoop was the head coach at Columbia (7-23) and then the defensive coordinator at William & Mary. There, he mastered a huge defensive turnaround that propelled W&M to an 11-3 record in 2009 (just two years removed from a 4-7 mark), and the FCS semifinals.
In 2009, W&M was first nationally in rush defense (61.1 yards per game) and second in scoring defense (12.1 ppg.). The performance helped earn Shoop the 2009 FootballScoop NCAA FCS Coordinator of the Year Award.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
Hull played outside as a junior after being in the middle as a sophomore, so he knows the vagaries of the position. He has to. Consider:
-- With Ben Kline shelved with an Achilles injury, Hull is by far the most experienced player at Linebacker U. Expected starter Brandon Bell (6-1, 222) is a true sophomore, and Nyeem Wartman (6-1, 236) is a redshirt junior. Back-up Gary Wooten (6-2, 237), mostly a special teams player, is a redshirt sophomore. And highly-touted freshmen Jason Cabinda (6-1, 240) and Troy Reeder (6-2, 235) have been on campus for all of three weeks.
-- He is in his fifth season, after being a valuable special-teams contributor in 2012 and a starter in 2013, although he missed two games and parts of two others with a knee injury. Of PSU’s other five top linebackers, three were either high school freshmen or sophomores during Hull’s 2010 redshirt season at Penn State.
-- Hull, who came to campus five years ago at 209 pounds and now weighs 232, and has literally grown into the position. At Lift For Life on Saturday, he was the top Nittany Lion on the 225-pound bench press, doing 30 reps. That would have tied him for first among linebackers at the 2014 NFL Combine.
-- He learned how to lead from future NFL linebackers like Mike Mauti and Nate Stupar. “I took away mostly how hard they worked, how much respect they demanded out of the unit,” Hull said. “They went out every single day and worked their butts off, trying to get the best out of themselves and everyone around them. They were on-the-field coaches and knew the defense, just like I do now. Whenever it was their senior year, they all stepped up.”
-- Expect veteran safeties Adrian Amos (6-0, 209) or a beefed-up Jesse Della Valle (6-1, 205 – up 10 pounds), both in their final season, to move up to outside linebacker – just as undersized Stephen Obeng-Agyapong did in 2013. Same goes for Malik Golden, a hidden gem who moved from wide receiver to the secondary last summer. He’s added 15 pounds, to go 205, “but I’m still fast – a 4.55,” he said post-Blue-White Game.
Add those up and you can see why the 23-year, four-month-old Hull will be a graduate assistant of sorts – while still playing. “I’m trying to focus on football this time around and do it right,” he said
GRADING HIS PROTEGES
Hull said he has attentive students, with good study habits and physical abilities.
“Brandon played really well last year. Really heady, always around the ball. I think he’s going to be really solid for us this year, Hull said. “And Nyeem has learned a lot. Nyeem is very vocal out of the field, making sure everyone is where they need to be. He’s the guy relaying the signals.”
“We are going to have to rely on Cabinda and Reeder. Both guys are big guys, stocky. I think they can really help us, especially in the run game. They have to get the assignments first, learn the concepts and schemes. That’s the main thing. Then there’s the speed of the game. It’s definitely a lot faster than high school.”
Nice, heady assessment. So, he was asked, do the young guys take heed to such wisdom?
“Uh, yeah,” Hull said.
Then he just grinned, too modest to add, “They better.”