UNIVERSITY PARK — This has been an up-and-down summer for Penn State’s DaQuan Jones. The senior defensive tackle’s weight has been falling, but his stock is definitely on the rise.
“I feel good,” Jones said. “This offseason I trained hard, lost some weight.”
Not that a few extra pounds were holding Jones down in the eyes of the experts.
NFL.com senior analyst Gil Brandt, a former Dallas Cowboys executive, rated Jones the No. 1 defensive tackle prospect in college football. Brandt called Jones “a strong player with good speed (5.15 seconds in the 40-yard dash) for the position.”
Jones is on the preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy, given to the nation’s top interior lineman. “Phil Steele’s College Football Preview” named Jones to its preseason all-Big Ten list as a third-teamer on defense.
“It’s been a blessing,” Jones said of the attention. “But at the same time, the season hasn’t come yet. We’ll see what happens.”
The Nittany Lions opened training camp on Aug. 5 and are now in their first week of full-contract drills, getting ready for the Aug. 31 season-opener against Syracuse.
It will be a trimmer Jones wearing jersey No. 91, chasing opposing running backs and causing headaches for Big Ten offensive linemen this fall.
Jones — who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 318 pounds by the university — said he gave up soda, juice and “midnight snacks” in his quest to become leaner and meaner.
“I’ve been working to keep my weight down,” he said at Penn State’s media day on Thursday. “Trying to eat right, doing it right.”
Jones said that he “needed to be a little quicker.”
“I want to be around 315, even 310,” he said. “Last year I played at around 325.”
Jones came to Penn State from Johnson City, N.Y., where he was the No. 2 offensive line recruit in the nation, according to Rivals.com. But he was a standout on defense, too. As a high school senior, he had 70 tackles, three sacks and four fumble recoveries.
With the Nittany Lions, Jones emerged in 2012, starting 11 games. He tallied 22 tackles, including two for loss, and had one fumble recovery for the 8-4 Lions. He had four-tackle games twice, against Ohio University and Navy.
Jones points to the influence of defensive line coach Larry Johnson and standout tackles who came before him at Penn State. He said he wants to leave his mark in the performances of his young teammates as much as in the Nittany Lion record book.
“I don’t want to hold onto all the football I know,” Jones said.
He said Johnson’s gift is getting the best out of each player.
“His message is ‘Give everything you’ve got, give an extreme effort,’” Jones said. “That’s something he’s been harping on since I got here.”
Jones said older players helped him learn and develop.
Last season, Jones played alongside high-energy defensive tackle Jordan Hill, a third-round draft choice and now a rookie with the Seattle Seahawks.
In 2011, he learned from consensus all-American Devon Still, Penn State’s last Outland Trophy finalist. Still was a second-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals.
A year earlier, standout tackle Ollie Ogbu, another native New Yorker, took a young DaQuan Jones under his wing.
“When I was a freshman, it was Ollie Ogbu, Devon Still,” Jones said. “Last year, it was Jordan Hill. Those guys were all about being relentless and pursuing the football. I’m trying to pass that along to the younger guys now.”
Maybe next year, another Penn State defensive tackle will be pointing to Jones on an NFL roster and remembering his wisdom and example of hard work.
“Right now I’m not thinking about the NFL,” Jones said. “I’m just focused on going out there every day and enjoying the total experience of my last year here. We have a beautiful stadium, great fans. I want to experience all of that.”
Jones figures his performance on the field will tip the scales in his favor when the NFL draft comes along.
Others seem to agree.
“The play of the 6-foot-4, 330-pound Jones was a big reason why the Nittany Lions won eight games during the 2012 season,” NFL.com’s Brandt wrote.
Heavy stuff, but you might want to adjust that weight estimate downward about 20 pounds.
Follow Chip Minemyer on Twitter @MinemyerChip.