DAVIE — Here’s the first thing you should know about Mike Hull.
His teammates respect him.
“That guy’s a monster,” Miami Dolphins middle linebacker Kiko Alonso said. “The guy’s a freaking beast.”
Alonso, a beast, knows a beast when he sees one.
“I am a Mike Hull fan,” Dolphins defensive back and special teams captain Michael Thomas said. “I will always be one of the first one celebrating when he makes a play. I know his story. I know how hard he’s worked.”
Thomas, one of the best special teams players in the NFL, knows a special teams warrior when he sees one.
Hull and Thomas are tied as NFL leaders — not just Dolphins leaders — in special teams tackles, with 15.
“We joke around every week about who’s going to get the tackles,” Hull said. “Who’s going to get the double-team? Who’s going to get screwed out of a tackle? We’re in a race to see who gets the most.”
Hull is not just an outstanding special-teamer. He is, like Alonso, a middle linebacker.
And if Alonso can’t play through a broken thumb and strained hamstring on Sunday against the Cardinals, Hull is in line for his first NFL start.
If his performance last Sunday against the Ravens is any indication, Hull will fly around with no regard for his body.
“His instincts are off the charts,” first-year Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “You see how quickly he reacts compared to everybody else. For whatever reason, he has that ability to … Everybody is going one way, he’s going the other way, and he’s usually right. You just watch him play, it’s very impressive.”
Here is the second thing you should know about Mike Hull.
He went undrafted.
Hull had 294 tackles as a Nittany Lion. Only five Penn State players ever had more.
And yet, perhaps because Hull is 6-feet, 233 pounds — one of his Miami coaches says you wouldn’t pick him out of a Dunkin’ Donuts line as an NFL player — he was not selected in 2015.
The Dolphins watched the tape of Hull as a senior and noticed the co-captain led the Big Ten with 140 tackles, including 10.5 tackles for loss. Since signing as an undrafted free agent with the Dolphins in May of 2015, Hull has been… waived… signed to the practice squad… signed to the roster… waived… signed to the practice squad… and signed to the roster again.
“He’s self-made, like me,” the Dolphins’ defensive back Thomas said. “Undrafted, nobody gave him a chance. He just kicked the door down with his opportunity. He’s out here playing out of his mind on special teams. Getting his opportunity on defense. He’s playing at a high level. He’s flying around, making plays.”
The best thing about Mike Hull is effort. No apologies needed for that statement.
Listen to Hull explain what he tries to do on each and every snap.
“I just try to live in that play and that play alone,” Hull said. “Give max effort. Try to make a tackle if it’s a tackle or make a block if a block is needed. Sell out on every play.”
Dolphins assistant head coach and special teams coach Darren Rizzi says he has seen success on special teams translate to success on defense. You can evaluate a players’ ability to move in space, and yes, hit and tackle.
Rizzi recalled a visit he had with Penn State’s coach in State College, Pennsylvania.
“Exactly what James Franklin said he was is exactly what he is,” Rizzi said. “He said, ‘You are going to love this guy. Do not get caught up in his size, his look, his height, his weight, his arm size. Just put the film on and watch the guy play.’ And that’s exactly what’s happened.”
In the the second quarter at Baltimore, Hull properly diagnosed a screen to the running back and promptly dropped him. On the same drive, Hull sniffed out an end-around and ran a decent distance for the tackle.
“I kind of felt it happening,” Hull said of the end-around.
Which is the third and final thing you should know about Hull.
It doesn’t seem he’ll be at all overwhelmed if he starts and calls plays Sunday against David Johnson and the Cardinals.
“I feel more prepared having had a taste of it,” Hull said. “I have a feel for the tempo and the speed.”
Dolphins coaches gained confidence in Hull for his special teams play, but also his linebacker play the past two preseasons.
No Dolphin has more preseason tackles than Hull, with 38 the past two years. This preseason, Hull had 27 tackles, more than the second- and third-ranked Dolphins in that category combined.
“The guy makes tackles,” Rizzi said. “That’s what he does.”