UNIVERSITY PARK (AP) - From tackling drills to side-to-side lunges in warmups, Glenn Carson seemed to have a shadow whenever he was on the practice field Wednesday with the way Mike Hull followed him around.
Hull was never more than a couple steps behind Penn State's veteran middle linebacker.
The top reserve at linebacker last year is gearing up this spring for a first-string assignment on the outside with Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges off to pursue their NFL dreams.
"The thing I've taken from them is the way they played the game," Hull said before practice Wednesday. "They're intense. They did have great leadership qualities.
"That's how it is at Linebacker U. Whenever it's your time to step up, it's 'go time,' your time to shine. I'm ready to fill that role on the defense."
Without question, Penn State loses productivity and leadership with leading tacklers Hodges (109) and Mauti (95) done with their blue-and-white careers.
Carson, though, is back. Overshadowed by playmakers Hodges and Mauti, Carson had 85 tackles last season, and provides savvy and experience after two seasons starting in the middle. He's made the play calls and called the check-downs. Now, he knows he'll have to assume more of a leadership role at linebacker, and for the defense overall.
"I know a lot of the defensive schemes, so that role really hasn't changed for me," Carson said. "Maybe a little bit more of an off-the-field role that Mauti, (fullback Michael) Zordich and (quarterback Matt) McGloin might have taken care of. I might have a little bit more of that on my shoulders."
That, and getting used to two new starters on either side of him. After showing potential on special teams last year as a freshman before getting hurt, Nyeem Wartman has one of the outside spots on the first team this spring.
Hull has the other spot, though he has a bit more experience after getting extensive playing time as a reserve, and on special teams. He started last season's finale - the emotional 24-21 win over Wisconsin - with Mauti out with a knee injury.
Spring practice is about studying film to learn where mistakes were made the previous season, and showing improvement on the field in the early audition to secure roles for the fall.
"Do whatever you have to do - write it down- whatever you have to do to stop making the same mistakes over and over again," Carson said.
Hull and Wartman have a "very good sense of what they're doing," he added. "I have confidence that those guys are going do that, that it's going to be a smooth transition."
The trio of Hull, Carson, Wartman is almost a combination by default given the slim numbers returning for Penn State at the position. The only other scholarship player with decent experience, Ben Kline, is limited this spring after offseason shoulder surgery. He ran through the paces of a tackling drill Wednesday but didn't hit the pads.
At least there's added comfort level this spring with the defensive schemes. Even with the departure of defensive coordinator Ted Roof to Georgia Tech following just one season, Hull and Carson said Wednesday the schemes haven't changed much under new coordinator John Butler.
That should make it easier for Hull to slide right into a high-profile role in Happy Valley. As a sophomore in 2012, Hull was sixth on the team with 58 tackles, including four sacks. He also recovered two fumbles - returning one 74 yards for a touchdown against Navy - and blocked a kick.
Hull is already known on the team for his strong work ethic and offseason conditioning. He routinely tops the weight room chart for bench repetitions.
"After playing a lot last year, I realized my role was going to increase," Hull said. "I've been in the film room a lot, getting ready in offseason workouts, ready to step up to be a leader off the field and on the defense."