When it comes to the 2014 Penn State football squad, there's no question who'll be the most irreplaceable player on offense--it's Christian Hackenberg, then everyone else.
Defense, though, is another story.
This week, Cari, Jared, and Nick will tackle the three players they each think will be the most irreplaceable on the defensive side of the ball, and you'll have an opportunity at the end to vote for the player you think is most incapable of being replaced on this year's team. Up first is linebacker Mike Hull.
When Jared first sent out the email to all staff about this series idea and who the most irreplaceable player on defense this fall would be, my response was simple, and succinct: "It's Mike Hull, and it's not even close."
A four star linebacker out of high school (and top ten and top five in his position and in the state of PA as a senior), Hull has been the heir apparent at Linebacker U for a few years now--and hadn't been able to crack the starting lineup until 2013, his redshirt junior season, a testament to the talent in front of him. Last year, he was the second leading tackler on the squad with 78 tackles (4.5 for loss)--despite missing two games due to injury, and playing hampered most of the rest of the year.
This year, with the graduation of three-year starter Glenn Carson, Hull will be moving to the inside, signalling a shift in the style of defense that Penn State will play under Bob Shoop, the fourth defensive coordinator for the Lions in four years. Hull's often been cited as the speediest linebacker on the team, and the best in pass coverage--so much so that in 2012, when depth in the secondary was at its weakest, then-coach Bill O'Brien often didn't have a true nickel package--Hull would be the defacto nickel back, as part of a roadrunner package.
Hull's football IQ has increased with his time at Penn State, though his athleticism and nose for the ball have remained constant. He's become one of the leaders of this team, oft-cited by James Franklin, and Shoop can't say enough about the Canonsburg, PA, native:
"Mike's very mature," Shoop said. "He's football smart. He's very distinctive. ... There's not a player I trust more than him. He's a really special guy, and he's the undisputed quarterback of the defense."
He's not the returner with the most starts on defense, and we've been excited about him breaking out for years now. But now that this is arguably Mike Hull's defense, and he's the unquestioned leader with the pieces necessary around him for an All-B1G season, and with the lack of proven depth beyond the starters at the linebacker position--it's hard to see why anyone other than Mike Hull would be the most irreplaceable player on this side of the ball.