UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Mike Hull did not enjoy redshirting last season as a freshman at Penn State, but he thinks the experience has made him a more polished outside linebacker.
"It wasn't fun redshirting and not playing, but I think it was the best thing for me to do," Hull said. "Being on the scout team, I was able to get to know the defense, and I got to go against the [offensive] starters every day.
"It made me a lot better."
Hull, 6 feet and 225 pounds, also has benefitted from an additional 15 pounds.
"I was too small last year," he said. "I was between 210 and 215 and wasn't strong enough. This spring, I got up to 220, and now 225, and it's made a big difference."
Hull opened preseason practice Thursday as the backup to junior Gerald Hodges at one of the outside linebacker spots.
Hodges, 6 feet 2, 234 pounds, missed four games early last season with a hairline fracture in his leg but finished the year with 31 tackles and two pass breakups.
Hodges is poised for a breakout season in 2011, while Hull is looking to contribute at linebacker and on special teams in his first season on the field.
"I think this year, I'm just going to learn as much as I can from Gerald," Hull said. "I want to get in there a little bit, rotate, hopefully, make some tackles, make some plays on special teams and make a name for myself.
"I've been working on my pass-rush stuff, getting off blocks and pass coverage. You always can improve on that."
Hull, a five-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American from Canon-McMillan High School, was rated the No. 1 middle linebacker in the country by Scout.com. He was ranked the No. 7 outside linebacker prospect by Rivals.com.
As a senior, he had 93 tackles in seven games and rushed for 443 yards and seven touchdowns. As a junior, he led the WPIAL in rushing with more than 1,300 yards.
Although Hull was recruited as a linebacker at Penn State, he spent the first eight practices of his college career at strong safety last year before shifting back to linebacker.
He is the son of former Penn State linebacker Tom Hull, a Uniontown High graduate who lettered for the Nittany Lions from 1971-73 and spent two years in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers.
"Sometimes, [coach] Joe [Paterno] will call me Tom," Hull said, laughing. "He's done it a couple times, but he usually corrects himself."
Hull's uncle, John Hull, also lettered for Penn State (1970-71), and his high school coach, Guy Montecalvo, played for the Nittany Lions (1973-76). Another of Hull's uncles, Louis Kreznoski, played football at North Carolina State.
"I talk to my dad on the phone every day," Hull said. "He just tells me to work hard and establish yourself. He says, 'Be a good team player while you're there, and just try to make the most out of your career.' I just want to live up to what he expects me to do, and I want to make it to the NFL one day just like he did. He is my inspiration."
Middle linebacker Michael Mauti has been impressed with Hull's instincts and work ethic.
"Mike's a hard worker, who has a lot of talent," Mauti said. "I think he definitely will be in the mix for playing time this year. He's added some weight and had a very good spring. I expect him to play well."
NOTES -- Penn State's quarterback depth shrunk Thursday when junior Kevin Newsome decided to leave the team. He likely will transfer. He was expected to be the No. 3 quarterback while Paul Jones, a redshirt freshman from Sto-Rox High, sits out the season due to academics. Newsome, a Portsmouth, Va., native, completed 14 of 24 passes for 144 yards in his career. He also had 33 carries for 161 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt junior walk-on Shane McGregor became the No. 3 quarterback behind Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin, who are competing for the starting job. ... Penn State is ranked No. 25 in USA Today's preseason coaches' poll. ... The Big Ten announced Thursday that teams will start playing a nine-game conference schedule beginning in 2017.
Correction/Clarification: (Published August 6, 2011) Penn State football player Michael Mauti was misidentified in a photo caption accompanying an article in Friday's editions about competition for playing time among Nittany Lions linebackers.
Ron Musselman: email@example.com .