Last season, Deion Barnes’ goal was simple enough. He wanted 10 sacks.
The Penn State defensive end finished his first season with six. But upon closer examination of all his film reels last season, sure enough, Barnes believes he could’ve reached his preferred threshold.
“We watched film the other day and I had about four or five sacks that I should’ve had,” Barnes said. “I think I could’ve had plus-10. I would beat the guy, get shook by the quarterback, slip or something like that.”
Now, the 6-foot-4, 244-pound Barnes is ready to make good on those misses. He said he’s put in extra time working out on his own, running through tackling dummies and pouring over film after film to try to remedy his mistakes.
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Barnes — who found most of his success rushing to the outside, wide of slower tackles last season, beating them wide with his speed and then using his long reach to pull quarterbacks down or chop the ball away from them — wanted to improve his inside game and run stopping abilities.
So he went to work, adjusting his rushing angles and improving his footwork to the inside. Sometimes defensive line coach Larry Johnson would sit in on a film session with him. Oftentimes, it was just Barnes by himself.
“I definitely wanted to make sure that wasn’t a weakness again,” Barnes said.
So far, his teammates have taken notice.
“He has a knack for getting to the ball and I think he’s a guy that plays all four quarters like a lot of the guys on our defense,” senior linebacker Glenn Carson said. “He can make some pretty athletic plays sometimes. When you watch him on film you just kind of stop for a second and you’re just like, ‘Wow.’”
Barnes, who said he feels comfortable rushing from either end spot, has found himself matched up with senior tackle Adam Gress oftentimes in practice. Gress, who stands 6-foot-6 and tips the scale at 321 pounds, has raised his eyebrows time and again at Barnes’ ability.
“He’s unreal. He’s one of the best defensive ends I’ve played against,” Gress said. “Not just here, but against other teams and he’s made great progress from last season already and I think he’s only going to go up from there.”
And Barnes plans to keep his progression headed in an upwards direction.
He was reminded of the sophomore slump cliche that has befallen players in the past. But he’s not too worried about that, even when considering standout defensive tackle Jordan Hill won’t be around to help him along this season.
Now, senior DaQuan Jones will be one of the two tackles helping Barnes out.
“He gives everything he has every time,” Jones said of Barnes. “Seeing him develop from last year to this year, it’s something special because you can tell that he wants to be a great player.”
Following his breakout freshman season in which Barnes also added 26 tackles, 10 for a loss, and forced three fumbles, he took home some hardware. Barnes won three different Freshman of the Year awards and was selected to the BWAA Freshman All-America Team.
Those accolades have only ratcheted up Barnes’ expectations for himself.
“It’s basically like motivation for me. It lets me know that I can’t slack off at all. I have to be on top of my game every game,” Barnes said. “A couple of games I would have a bad game last year and people wouldn’t think nothing about it. But if I have a bad game this year, people will be like, ‘What happened to Deion? He’s not the same. Is this a sophomore slump?’
“I haven’t thought about it because I don’t think that’s going to happen.”