Less is more for Barnes in 14
Success was so immediate for Deion Barnes.
As a redshirt freshman, the Philadelphia native played in every game, racked up three forced fumbles, six sacks and 10 tackles for loss on top of his 26 tackles through the season. The effort earned Barnes the Thompson-Randle El Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors to go along with an honorable mention All-Big Ten nod.
In the context of Barnes' inexperience, the instant impact was notable, leading to plenty of fan and pundit projections that his career trajectory would take an even bigger leap in his second full season with the Nittany Lions.
With just four TFL and two sacks to go along with a forced fumble and a handful of pass breakups, a negative evaluation of Barnes' 2013 season has been nearly unanimous.
The inside the locker room growth and film that were witnessed by new Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop this spring told another story, though.
"He's done everything that's been asked of him this spring. He's kept his mouth shut, he's a consummate professional, he and Sean Spencer have developed a really good relationship," Shoop said. "He really does a good job of helping the younger players, taking them to the side.
"He does the things behind the scenes that maybe to the naked eye, you might not notice, but he's watching film, he's diligent in taking notes, and I feel like on and off the field, he's done just an outstanding job in the spring and has put himself in the position that, to me, he's going to be an All-Big Ten performer and this guy has a really, really bright future ahead of him."
For as bright of a future as Barnes might have, the nagging nature of negative perceptions regarding his sophomore campaign persist.
Having taken in all of the Nittany Lions' efforts from the past season on film, Shoop offered some interesting insight to the disparity that exists between the statistical drop-off and actual on-field impact Barnes made.
"There's a lot of reasons things happen. When I watched him, I was impressed. Let me put it that way. I didn't come away saying, 'Boy, 18 is not very good.' The opposite of that, really," Shoop said, setting up some thoughts for the future that might be enticing for Penn State fans. "I came out saying, Boy, 18 and 86 are really good players. The opportunities are endless with these guys. These are different things we can do with these guys to put these guys in a position to be successful."
Part of that potential success this season, it seems, will come from a decreased role for Penn State's entire defensive line.
Relying heavily on already-established players last season due to a preseason injury to Brad Bars and the redshirt seasons of the of Curtis Cothran, Parker Cothren and Garrett Sickels, the Nittany Lions played with a depth atypical of their mostly robust past defensive lines.
Said Shoop, "I think if you look at it last year, Penn State, they played four guys on the defensive line. They didn't sub a whole lot. Zettel went in at D-end a handful of snaps a game. Maybe Gaia or Baublitz, he came in a little bit at D-tackle, but really, the four guys that started really played almost the entire game on defense. That's really hard to do.
"We're very, very, very committed to playing more players. Maybe that means Deion Barnes come the fourth quarter is going to be a little bit fresher. When it's a key third down, he's going to be a little bit fresher rather than playing... I think the average defensive lineman for us at Vanderbilt played 40 snaps a game for our 12 game regular season, that's 480 snaps. Now, those guys played 70 snaps a game over 12 games, and that's 840 snaps. It kept those guys fresher and enabled them to be more productive at key times."
With Bars healthy and three freshmen ready to contribute this year - evidenced by a pair of sacks and seven combined tackles from the trio in the Blue-White Game - Shoop revealed some of what could be in the works for the 2014 season along Penn State's defensive line.
Specifically for Barnes, the winner of this spring's Frank Patrick Memorial Award - given annually to the junior Nittany Lion displaying "a total commitment to academics, off-season preparation, in-season commitment and community service" - that future appears bright. Throw in a newfound depth and flexibility that could find Barnes as a 3-4 outside linebacker at times, thanks in part to the Anthony Zettel's move to the three-technique defensive tackle position, and Shoop sees the same.
"We're probably a bit more of a movement-oriented group than they were a year ago. Line movements where an end lines up outside and slants inside or slants two-gaps to the inside," Shoop said. "It's more of a moving target than a sitting duck right there, and I think those little subtle little things will enable him to be a more productive player.
"He and I have talked privately and we've talked as a unit about putting him in some situations where he can stand up - almost like a 3-4 outside linebacker - and try to put him in a positions where a back might be protecting on him and things like that."