A New Day for 'Quan

Penn State's big senior defensive tackle has stepped out of the shadows and into the light. How is he handling the transition?

Until this season, Penn State defensive tackle DaQuan Jones had been a complementary player to future NFL tackles Devon Still and Jordan Hill. This year, Jones is stepping into the spotlight as a play-making leader for the Nittany Lions.

In his first year as a starter in 2012, Jones recorded 22 tackles, two tackles for loss and half a sack while playing alongside Hill. Through two games this season, the senior already has a team-high 18 tackles to go along with a pair of sacks.

“I just want to go out and play my game and I want to be known for who I am,” said Jones. “I didn't come here to live in anyone's shadow. I really respect both Still and Hill, but at the same time I have a game I can bring to the table, and there's a lot of stuff I can be known for.”

Jones attributes much of his improvement this year to dropping from 330 pounds to 315. He did so by watching what he ate, which meant cutting out two of his favorites -- sweets and chicken wings -- and replacing them with more vegetables.

Now he has more energy to play longer and excel even when facing double-team blocks. In fact, he looks forward to facing two blockers.

“I just like double teams because that means someone on the D-line is open and someone on the D-line has a one-on-one with an offensive guy,” said Jones. “You get the advantage to go out there and dominate. I also like double teams because I just like the contact. You just go out there and hit. I really thrive off that.”

While Jones thrives off double teams and more contact, opposing offenses are trying to find ways around him. However, it won't be easy when facing Jones and a Nittany Lion defense that has so far limited rushers to 1.8 yards a carry.

The next challenge for Jones and company is quarterback Blake Bortles and UCF at Beaver Stadium Saturday. Bortles completed 63 percent of his passes against FIU last week. Also, the Knights have a running back, Storm Johnson, who received an offer from Penn State but instead committed to Miami before ultimately transferring to the UCF.

“What we are focusing on this week is all passing lanes and making sure we continue to get to the quarterback,” said Jones. “Bortles does a good job losing pass rushers and making big plays by scrambling. Our job this week is to try to contain him in the pocket and don't let him get out.”

If that means Jones making nine tackles again, great. But he'll be just as content if the gaudy tackling numbers diminish, and the defense keeps playing well and the 2-0 Lions keep winning.

“To be honest, I don't focus on any of that,” said Jones. “I know later in the season it's going to be harder to get nine tackles like that each game. Right now I'm just trying to go out there and make as many plays as I can to help the football team. I know my numbers could dwindle down, but I'm going to go out there like I did in the beginning of the season. Hopefully it pays off again and I keep making the same plays I am now.”

One of Jones' biggest supporters this season has been Hill, who is now with the Seattle Seahawks after being taken in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Though Jones is no longer in Hill's shadow, he still turns to his former teammate for advice.

“Hill and I talk all the time,” said Jones. “We became really close last year. He texts me and we talk about football. We talk about how stuff is going for him personally and vice versa. I really talk to him a lot. All he tells me is, 'to keep it up man,' and that's all I really need to hear. He just tells me a few points and that's what I'm going to continue to do.”

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