- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Penn State's Deion Barnes distinguished himself the way many young defensive linemen do: by beating tackles around the edge and putting quarterbacks on the ground.
Barnes led the Nittany Lions in both sacks (6) and tackles for loss (10) and tied for the team lead in forced fumbles (3) as a redshirt freshman in 2012. He was an easy pick for Big Ten Freshman of the Year after making eight starts and appearing in all 12 contests. In a program known for producing star defensive linemen and linebackers, Barnes looks every bit like the next man in line.
But is he a finished product? Not even close.
"I did well in pass rush, but I didn't do as well as I wanted to in the run game," Barnes told ESPN.com this week. "I still need [to make] more plays, way more plays. I missed a bunch of sacks."
Barnes sets high standards for himself as a pass-rusher, but he also admits it comes naturally to him. He recorded 13 sacks and 25 tackles for loss as a senior at Northeast High School in Philadelphia. The 6-foot-4, 244-pound Barnes credits longtime PSU defensive line coach Larry Johnson for helping him take another step as a rusher.
The next phase is clear: get better against the run.
"I basically had to work on my hand placement," Barnes said, "getting my hands out faster on the tackles in the run game so I could lock the tackles out and see the ball better. Coach Johnson said they don't want that to ever be a weakness for me, so [opponents say], 'Let's just run at No. 18.'"
Penn State's opponents probably are talking about running away from Barnes after his breakout season in 2012. Johnson has told Barnes that he'll be noticed after winning the Freshman of the Year honor, and Barnes "definitely" expects more double teams when the season rolls around.
Another challenge for Barnes is leadership, an area Johnson wants him to grasp this season. Senior defensive tackle DaQuan Jones has taken the reins so far this spring, but Barnes is expected to help.
"I'm a type of guy who leads by example," Barnes said. "I don't really do it vocally. If I make a play or something like that, it gets the team up, to want to make more plays. If you see a big hit, you're going to want to do the same thing as the person who just did it."
After delivering several big hits in 2012, Barnes hopes to play a bigger role in takeaways, an area being stressed by new defensive coordinator John Butler this spring. Although Barnes had the three forced fumbles, he wasn't much of a factor against the pass.
Penn State finished in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten and nationally in takeaways with 22.
"We had a lot of missed opportunities with interceptions and sack-fumbles," Barnes said.
Barnes undoubtedly raised the bar for himself in 2012, but he also gained a greater comfort level to reach it in 2013.
"Last year, my eyes were wide open," he said. "I had never seen zone-reads and the way things were going, the power reads with the quarterbacks. Now I can see it and I'm like, 'Oh, OK, that's what they're trying to do.' I see getting more into the offensive schemes and understanding what's going on better.
"I have a lot more confidence in making plays."