Prime-time Penn Stater Mike Hull scrapping for one of final few spots with Dolphins

Mike Hull was still in his pads and giving interviews Saturday night as other Miami Dolphins teammates shuffled out of the locker room and headed for home, or wherever else you go after a 13-9 exhibition victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

Hull, a college star but an NFL maybe, is one guy in no hurry to shed his Dolphins gear, whether it’s a torrid day at practice or a nervous full-scale audition under the Sun Life Stadium lights. You see players like this every summer, on the bubble to make the regular-season roster and clawing for credibility.

They can’t all make it. They won’t all make it. Of all there is to love about football, this may be the one thing I consistently hate.

“It’s gonna be close,” Hull said Saturday night, and it must be noted that the linebacker’s honest assessment came despite his delivery of a 1-2 punch on the goal-line that could not be ignored.

On third down at the Miami 1, Hull stepped up to drop Falcons running back Terron Ward, a fellow rookie, for no gain. Then, on fourth down, Hull shot through blockers to sack T.J. Yates. Scoring threat snuffed. Helmet-butting celebration earned, just as it happened so often in college.

We’re only talking about the leading tackler in the Big Ten last year, and the No. 6 tackler all-time at Penn State. Hull was second-team All America as a senior, according to USA Today, and third team in the estimation of the Associated Press.

Wasn’t enough to get him drafted, though. In the robotic analysis of the NFL scouting combine, Hull was judged to have arms that are too short, overall size (6-feet and 237 pounds) that is underwhelming and a fairly common set of athletic skills for prospects at his position.

“I don’t have all the measurables,” Hull said, “but at the same time I’m here now.”

Here and hustling against the odds in search of an entry-level NFL job on special teams. Might have been different without the knee injury that required surgery just before the Pinstripe Bowl, Hull’s final college game, and without the rehab that slowed him down at the NFL combine. When healthy in October Hull piled up 19 tackles and an interception against Ohio State, the eventual national champion.

Coaches don’t want to hear about that stuff at this level, though. They want to see. They want to know, if it comes down to choosing between Zach Vigil and Hull, or possibly keeping both, that there’s some real staying power there, and hopefully even enough production to push a former middle-round draft pick like Jordan Tripp.

The sentimental journeys that fans are so eager to make, lumping rookies like these in with Zach Thomas and Nick Buoniconti and other undersized inside linebackers who shined for Miami, they don’t change the truth of training camp.

Hull, one of four undrafted rookies signed by Miami in May, knows that. So does Vigil, who went from a walk-on at Utah State to the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year.

Both should play a lot in Miami’s final preseason game Thursday night against Tampa Bay. That’s the good news, and so is the fact that linebacker is one of the Dolphins’ thinnest and most needy units. Otherwise, it’s no excuses, no sympathy when September rolls around.

It was the same for Hull’s father Tom, who also played linebacker at Penn State and got drafted by the 49ers in the 12th and final round of the marathon 1974 draft. His NFL career went by in a flash, ending long before Mike was born.

“I think this (Atlanta) game helped,” Mike Hull said when asked to rate his own chances.

Mind over measurables, that’s how Hull makes this team. Not up to me, of course. That’s the numbing numbers game Joe Philbin and his staff must play. That’s NFL cut week at its bloodiest.