Coming off a season in which he was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, end Deion Barnes is the most well-known returning member of Penn State's defensive line. But the rising redshirt sophomore knows his place in the hierarchy of the front four.
Asked about defensive leadership recently, Barnes did not hesitate in identifying the teammate who carries the most sway in his particular unit.
DaQuan is the leader of the D-line, Barnes said.
That would be DaQuan Jones, who -- with the graduation of tackles Jordan Hill and James Terry, as well as ends Sean Stanley and Pete Massaro -- is the lone experienced senior on the defensive line. The only other senior (eligibility-wise) up front is Nate Cadogan, the former tight end and offensive tackle who moved to D-tackle this spring.
Jones has been a stalwart on the defensive line for the past three seasons. In 2012, he started every game but the finale, when Terry got the nod on Senior Day. He understands the experience brings certain responsibilities.
I'm the only senior left, Jones said. I've been here three years now. It's a lot on my plate, but I think I'm ready for it because I've had great mentors. I had Devon Still (2010-11) and then I had Jordan Hill last year. You just learn from them going into this year.
So what did he take from Still, who is now with the Cincinnati Bengals, and Hill, who is expected to be taken in this month's NFL Draft?
Just to be assertive in the room, Jones said. When you're in there, let them know you're there and that you're serious and ready to take care of business. And when you go on the field, it's about leading by example. So you go on the field and do everything you can 100 percent and really just try to do what Coach (Larry) Johnson wants you to do.
According to Barnes, Jones has been up to the task.
He's the leader of the defensive line because he's making plays and he's talking, Barnes said. Everybody wants to do what he's doing and get the same praise he is.
If Jones had one fault heading into spring practice, it was that he packed on too much weight in the off-season. At the team's underclassmen pro day late in the winter, he checked in at more than 330 pounds. While that may have helped his power -- his 405-pound bench press is tied for the team best under second-year strength coach Craig Fitzgerald -- he knows carrying that much weight can impact his endurance when the season gets here.
The off-season, I got carried away and went up too high, Jones said last week. But right now, I'm getting back down. My lowest weight so far was (the previous week), at 320. Right now, I'm at 325. But I want to get down to about 315 at the end of spring ball. Then for the season, I want to be about 315, 310.
Along those lines, his goals heading into the 2013 campaign are pretty straightforward.
I just want to work on my physical wellbeing, Jones said. I'm just trying to take care of my body and get my weight right first, then trying to be as strong as possible going into the season. I want to try to be explosive. That's all I've been doing, really, is trying to prepare my body physically for the journey ahead.