Barnes' mind is on 2014.
"Last year, right now," he said, "I'm worrying about this year. I'm not even worrying about that. You learn from your mistakes and move on."
The Nittany Lions are in their second week of fall practices, and Barnes, a North Philadelphia native and Northeast High grad, is readying for what Penn State fans hope is a bounce-back junior season. The former Philadelphia Public School Player of the Year burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2012, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, but last year saw his numbers drop and even twice found himself out of the starting lineup.
Expectations were high for Barnes in the wake of his six-sack, 10-tackle-for-loss and three-forced fumble season of 2012. And while opposing offensives certainly paid more attention to him last year, a drop-off was evident. His sophomore season yielded just two sacks - he recorded just a half-sack through the first eight games - and only four tackles for loss.
"When you go from being the rookie of the year in a great conference, they're going to know who you are the next year," said first-year Penn State defensive line coach Sean Spencer, who has watched the film of Barnes' sophomore season but not the 2012 tape.
"They're not going to be surprised, 'Who's this kid from Philly, Erie Avenue?' All of a sudden now it's going to be like, 'That's Deion Barnes and we've got to stop him.' So you've got to match that intensity that people are scheming you up with more precision, and I think that's where we're going to get him to."
Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Schoop, who like Spencer once coached on Andy Talley's staff at Villanova, said he contends that Barnes and redshirt senior C.J. Olaniyan make up "as good as a 1-2 punch" at defensive end as any other school in the Big Ten.
Schoop said Barnes has 100 percent bought into the new staff's system. The coaching staff, the defensive coordinator added, has had conversations with Barnes regarding ways to utilize him that play to his strengths and put him in position to make plays.
After watching the defensive tape from last season, Spencer said in Barnes he sees a natural pass rusher with good hands who doesn't make many mistakes. Barnes features All-Big Ten and NFL potential, Schoop noted.
Spencer also lauded Barnes' work ethic. After each position meeting, Barnes, a 21-year-old on schedule to graduate in December, comes to Spencer and asks what he can do to improve, the coach said.
"He is a true student of the game, and because of that, and because of his work ethic and his attention to detail, he's going to be great," Spencer said. "We've got to just let the game come to him."
Spencer said he has high expectations for Barnes' third collegiate season, which will kick off when the Nittany Lions play Central Florida on Aug. 30 at Croke Park in Dublin, Ireland. The defensive line coach said he doesn't think that Barnes necessarily had "a bad year" last season and added that more than just the basic defensive statistics are needed to judge a defensive end's performance.
"And that's what we've got to get out of with him," Spencer said. "Don't calculate it by how many TFLs, how many sacks. Obviously, that's something that [members of the media] look for. As a coach, I want to make sure, 'Were you in the right spot at the right time? Did you affect the game in any positive way?' And yeah, you're measured by tackles for loss and tackles and sacks and things, but you also can be very, very consistent and do your job well and really help the team."
Tight end injured
Rising sophomore tight end Adam Breneman will be out indefinitely with an undisclosed injury, Penn State announced yesterday. It's unclear when the injury was sustained or how much time Breneman will miss. The former five-star recruit caught 15 passes for 186 yards last season as a true freshman and scored once in each of the last three games.
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