Finding a replacement for Mike Hull is going to be nearly impossible. Statistically, yes, he was spectacular, but you can always find one or two guys to replace production.
Instead, the biggest hole that Hull will leave is his intelligence and leadership, which will almost be impossible to replace. He was one of the smartest linebackers that Penn State has ever had, as his ability to diagnose a play and react quickly compensated for the fact that he wasn't the biggest, fastest or strongest guy on the field. Hull was spectacular at organizing the best defense in the Big Ten in 2014, and if the guy who fills his shoes in 2015 is half as good at it as he was, Bob Shoop's defense should be great again.
So that brings us to the first question in our roundtable series where we look at the 2015 Penn State football roster and wonder how some of last year's biggest contributors will be replaced. We begin by wondering, which player is going to replace Mike Hull in 2015?
Matt: It's pretty easy for me, Nyeem Wartman-White. Not only does it seem likely he steps into Hull's vacated spot in the middle of the defense, he is the most senior returning player amongst the linebackers. While leaders like Hull aren't simply replaced with just one guy, Wartman-White will be filling at least some of that void.
It was also very obvious last year when Nyeem missed time with injury, that his presence in the lineup is a big part of what Bob Shoop and Brent Pry want to do on defense. With young guys like Troy Reeder, Jason Cabinda, and Koa Farmer likely to take on bigger roles in their second year with the program, the experience of Wartman-White will be huge.
Jared: Nyeem Wartman-White. He was outstanding last season, and seems poised for a true breakout year with Hull moving on to the NFL. He has tremendous ability to close in on a gap in an instance, and might be the hardest hitter on the defense this season. Mike Hull was the heart and soul of an exceptional defense in 2014, but this year's unit should be fine in Wartman-White's very capable hands. He'll endear himself further to the Penn State faithful, and should quickly make a name for himself as one of the top linebackers in the Big Ten.
Devon: Nobody? Nyeem Wartman-White will be sliding inside, but there isn't another linebacker in the Big Ten who can do what Mike Hull did, every single game. Brandon Bell might be almost as good moving laterally, and Wartman's got the run-stuffing instincts--and maybe a converted safety like Koa Farmer will be just as good in coverage--but Mike Hull was so special precisely because he was the complete package. No Penn State linebacker is going to have a 19-tackle game like Hull did under the lights against Ohio State, or quietly rack up 12 tackles game in and game out. True, Penn State struggled when Bell or Wartman-White missed time a year ago, but that only proves that one player does not a linebacking corps make. There's little doubt this will still be a solid unit, but absent a transcendent talent like Hull, it'll be one with many more hiccups than even last year's absurdly thin unit.
Cari: The easy answer here is #5 (Nyeem Wartman-White), but I'm going to go with Brandon Bell. Though the defense clearly missed Wartman and Bell when both saw time on the sideline due to injury in 2014, Bell's quickness and versatility--and his intensity that he brought to the field immediately when he was inserted late in the season in 2013--were apparent. It's Wartman-White's group, being the veteran as a redshirt junior, but Bell will be who I'm looking for to make a huge leap, and impact immediately on the field.
Plus, Jason Cabinda should be making huge strides. Our starting three will be some of the best in the league, and though Hull is some big shoes to fill, we aren't LBU for no reason.
Tim A: Going out on a limb here and saying Nyeem Wartman-White. His athleticism and tackling abilities were certainly missed while he was nursing an injury last season and here's to hoping he remains relatively healthy the entire season. Also, he blocked a punt in his very first collegiate game, so things like that really stand out in my book. I'd also keep an eye out though for Jason Cabinda and Troy Reeder. I expect both of them to give Nyeem a breather without creating much of a drop-off in playmaking ability.
Polak: Right away? Nyeem Wartman-White. He's the obvious candidate to make the switch to the inside from the outside, and he'll almost certainly be the day one starter there. He's big and fast, and will surely be the next Penn State linebacker to rack up 100+ tackles. Will Wartman-White be what Hull was, though? No, he won't. Not because Wartman-White isn't an extremely talented linebacker, but because Mike Hull was a stud, and a stud who has already fought his way into the discussion to start for the Miami Dolphins. It's up to Wartman-White to step into his shoes not only as a playmaker, but as a leader.
I'm not 100% sold that he'll be the only one to man the middle linebacker spot by the end of the year, though. Troy Reeder was reportedly very impressive during practice last year. His style of play fits very will with Bob Shoop's aggressive schemes, so look for Reeder (and his brand new #42) to make a splash this year in the efforts to replace Hull.
Page: Nyeem Wartman, or whatever he's going by now. He's the only real answer, considering he'll be absorbing the Hull role. Brandon Bell's value comes in that you can split him out and cover slot receivers as well as being able to blitz him from wherever on the field. Nyeem played very well last season, and he should only improve from here on out. I'm excited to see how he handles his new role this year, especially from a leadership and strategic perspective.
Nick B: Nyeem Wartman-White. Entering the second year, I fully expect the comfort level between the staff and players to rise exponentially so that any areas of drop off between Hull and Wartman-White will be offset by areas of advantage. Bob Shoop will be playing mad scientist with his weapons in the linebacker corps to best utilize the dynamic skill set of each player.
Bill: I remember during media day 2013, talking to the guy formerly known as Nyeem Wartman and thinking "this guy is going to be a superstar." Now, two years later, I think Nyeem Wartman-White is on track to break out in a big way. He has all of the measurables that you want out of a linebacker – 6-foot-1, 243 lbs., fantastic athlete – and he has produced every year that he has lined up for the Nittany Lions. In 2014, he was second on the team with 75 tackles, and I expect him to get at last 30 more next season.
More importantly, Wartman-White is razor sharp and has the intensity that you want out of your star linebacker. If you ever get the chance to talk to him for 10 minutes, you can tell that the dude is passionate about putting on pads and destroying people. He is a sponge, the kind of guy who he been around spectacular linebackers since the day he stepped on campus (Hull, Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti) and has seen what it means to be a leader and a star linebacker. This year, it's his time, and I fully expect Wartman-White to be the next person in a long line of spectacular leaders at Linebacker U.