Strong spring a good sign for DE Barnes

UNIVERSITY PARK – Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes sent his D-coordinator, Bob Shoop, a text message Thursday night, explaining how he’s “all about being 100 percent and totally committed to what we’re doing.”

Two days later, the PSU coaching staff rewarded Barnes for his hard work and enthusiasm by giving him the Frank Patrick Total Commitment Award for spring ball.

“He’s done everything that’s been asked of him this spring,” Shoop said. “He’s kept his mouth shut, he’s a consummate professional. He and [D-line coach] Sean Spencer have developed a really good relationship.”

Those things are refreshing to hear about Barnes – and bode very well for Penn State’s defense – simply because he could have gone one of two ways after a disappointing 2013 season.

At this time last year, Barnes was considered a star in the making. He was coming off a superb season in which he was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and some who follow the program rated him right up there with receiver Allen Robinson as PSU players with the best pro potential.

Barnes was such a disruptive force as a freshman, leading the Lions in sacks (6) and tackles for loss (10), that it seemed to be a given he’d come out and play even better as a sophomore.

He didn’t. Not even close.

Barnes, quite frankly, was a non-factor for much of last season. He even lost his starting job and had to split time before finishing the year with only two sacks and four tackles for loss.

Maybe it was a sophomore slump. Maybe the press clippings went to his head. Maybe he just isn’t as good as many people believed.

Or maybe, as Shoop said, other teams just game planned so well against him that it was tough for Barnes to make plays.

“I think Deion’s been beat up a little bit,” Shoop said after Saturday’s Blue-White Game. “He’s Big Ten Rookie of the Year two years ago, and then I keep hearing people say to me, ‘He didn’t have as good a year last year’ and things like that.”

Asked what he saw on film from Barnes, Shoop said, “When I watched him, I was impressed, let me put it that way. I didn’t come away saying, ‘Boy, 18’s not very good.’ The opposite of that.”

Shoop felt the same way about another defensive end, C.J. Olaniyan.

“I came out saying, ‘Boy, 18 and 86 are really good players. I can’t wait. The opportunities are endless for these guys,'” Shoop said.

That gets us back to Barnes’ play and, more importantly, his attitude this spring.

He’s already been through a whirlwind in two years, going from future star to a guy who lost his job, and that kind of thing would test any player’s character and determination.

Barnes, who wasn’t available to talk to the media before or after the Blue-White Game, has dedicated himself to getting his career back on track. He takes diligent notes, Shoop said, helps out with the younger players and “does the things behind the scenes that maybe to the naked eye you might not notice.”

“On and off the field, he’s done just an outstanding job,” said Shoop, also praising Barnes’ maturity.

The defensive coordinator pointed out two reasons why Barnes might have a big bounce-back year this fall.

First, the defensive linemen will rotate more under this coaching staff, keeping them fresher. Shoop said that, watching film of last season, PSU’s linemen under former D-line coach Larry Johnson played about 70 snaps a game.

Conversely, at Vanderbilt, the linemen under Shoop’s watch played an average of 40 snaps per game.

“We’re very, very, very committed to playing more players,” Shoop said. “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.”

Shoop also said he has talked to Barnes about “putting him in some situations where he can stand out.” Those include perhaps like a 3-4 outside linebacker, or in a play call where he’s rushing against a running back trying to block.

One knock on Barnes – and it was the same for former PSU defensive end Aaron Maybin – is that he’s good against the pass but can be a liability at times against the run. Shoop doesn’t buy it, saying the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder is “big enough and strong enough” to go up against big run blockers.

Whether Barnes can live up to the hype he earned his freshman season remains to be seen, but the best thing one can say about him is that he’s doing everything he possibly can in practice, in workouts, with his teammates and with his coaches to reach his full potential.

That’s the kind of total commitment that earned Barnes the Frank Patrick Award this spring, plus the kind that could earn him many more accolades throughout the rest of his college career.

Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.