- Josh Moyer, ESPN Staff Writer
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Heading into next season, NittanyNation takes a closer look at holes left by departing Penn State players and the candidates who might fill them.
Who: Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges were arguably the best tandem in college football. Penn State was the only team to boast two Butkus Award semifinalists in those two, and they helped take this defense to another level. Mauti was all over the field and the unquestioned team leader, while Hodges was asked to help more in pass coverage this season.
By the numbers: Hodges led the team in tackles (109), had 8.5 stops in the backfield, one sack, two interceptions and a team-high nine deflections. He came on especially strong in the second-half of the season. Despite missing one game and three quarters of another, Mauti finished second in tackles (95), had four stops in the backfield, 2.5 sacks, three interceptions and three forced fumbles.
Job description: Where to even begin? These two did everything, and an argument could be made that they were the team's two best overall players. Mauti and Hodges should rank among some of Linebacker U's best tandems to play together, and they're basically irreplaceable. Whomever steps in will attempt to equal either Hodges' speed and coverage ability or Mauti's non-stop motor, quick play diagnosis and solid tackling. In short, there are some big shoes to fill here.
Top candidates: Rising redshirt junior Mike Hull and rising redshirt sophomore Ben Kline. Hull has all but locked up one of the starting jobs; he was the No. 4 'backer and saw a lot of time in the 2012 season. (He was sixth on the team with 58 tackles.) The other opening is more up for grabs, but Kline is the most experienced and could be next in line. He should see a lot of time regardless, but Nyeem Wartman and Gary Wooten also could make a push.
One to watch: Hull. This guy could be special. He's not the prototypical size of a linebacker (6-foot, 228 pounds), but his speed and strength aren't prototypical either -- in a good way. He maxed out at 405 pounds on the bench press during the summer, and he can run in the 4.5s. He was a big-play magnet seeing limited time in 2012, and he could carve out his place in Linebacker U history in 2013.
16dMitch Sherman and Brian Bennett