Penn State University Nittany Lions
Johnson City, New York
Johnson City Senior High School
Throughout all the recent turmoil at the university, the Nittany Lions players new they had a father figure they could go to, one that would not only hand out advice on life, but also one with a long, long history for developing National Football League talent — Larry Johnson, Sr. It comes as no surprise the way former Penn State players give credit for their success in the pro ranks to their former coach.
Since Johnson arrived at Penn State in 1996, he helped develop seven first-team All-Americans in the prior to the 2013 season, including defensive tackles Devon Still (2011) and Jared Odrick (2009) and defensive end Aaron Maybin (2008). He coached players that won six Big Ten Conference Defensive Player-of-the-Year or Defensive Lineman-of-the-Year honors and six players that would eventually be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Johnson left Penn State after the 2013 campaign, taking his fatherly skills to Ohio State, but his "pipeline" to the NFL is expected to continue in a "big way" this draft — big as in 322-pound defensive tackle DaQuan Jones, a player who entered the Penn State program after being rated the second-best offensive lineman in the nation during his playing days at Johnson City High School.
Based on his breakout senior season that saw Jones receive All-Big Ten Conference first-team honors and be a serious candidate for the Outland Trophy, many expect the strong-side defensive tackle to become the latest Larry Johnson-tutored lineman to reach the NFL. Courtney Brown, Michael Haynes, Jimmy Kennedy, Tamba Hali, Aaron Maybin and Jared Odrick all were first-team All-Americans and first-round draft picks since 2000, all developed under the watchful eyes of Johnson.
You can also add in Anthony Adams and Devon Still, who were second-round selections, Jordan Hill a third-round choice, and Jack Crawford, a fifth-rounder, as those who excelled under Johnson. Now, Penn State's loss is Ohio State's gain. "I love Coach Johnson," Jones said at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine. "He's definitely made me a better player."
Jones, who was brought along slowly after switching to the defensive line upon his arrival at State College, has spent his first two seasons seeing limited playing time behind Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Devon Still. When Still left for the NFL after the 2011 season, Johnson inserted his neophyte defensive tackle into the lineup.
Jones started the first 11 games on the 2012 schedule and was instrumental in leading a defense that ranked second in the Big Ten Conference and 16th nationally in scoring defense, yielding just 19.1 points per game. While Jones did not record record-breaking numbers, he did produce 22 tackles, with 14 coming on third down snaps, during his junior campaign.
Coach Johnson sat down with his "pupil" after the 2012 season, explaining that he had big plans for Jones in 2013. The two became like Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Mr. Kesuke Miyagi (Pat Morita) from "The Karate Kid." It was more than "wax on, wax off," it was preparing to realize Jones' life-long dream of playing in the NFL.
The move to strong-side saw Jones become a force vs. multiple blockers, as the long hours watching film helped him develop the explosive burst he needed to split double teams and shoot the gaps. The once inactive hands were now viable weapons that he would use to counter any moves the offensive lineman would try. The strength coming from his 322-pound frame would leave most ball carriers nursing wounds after being tackled by Jones.
The senior finished the 2013 campaign fifth on the team with a career-high 56 tackles (33 solos). He tied for third on the team in sacks, getting to opposing quarterbacks four times (two solos/two assists). He also led the Nittany Lions in tackles-for-loss, bringing down ball carriers in the backfield 13 times (ten solos/three assists).
The former offensive line recruit would conclude his college career playing vs. the best offensive linemen college had to offer when he spent a week in Mobile, Alabama, preparing to play in the prestigious 2014 Senior Bowl. Coming off an impressive showing in front of virtually every decision maker in the league, Jones was reflecting on all that happened to him since he first came under Johnson's guidance, as he stood before teams once again at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
"It's been pretty cool," Jones said. "I'm really enjoying this. Something like this comes around once in a lifetime. You have to take advantage of it and excel in the opportunity. Being able to perform for the scouts and GMs pleases me. I'm just enjoying it."
This past season, Jones was the fourth defensive tackle to be selected Penn State's outstanding senior player since the award's inception in 1978. He joined Lou Benfatti (1993), Brandon Noble (1996) and Still (2011), who plays for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Jones believes he can flourish in multiple defensive systems in the NFL. "I'd do anything, really," he said, when asked if he could play nose tackle. "It doesn't matter what position I play. I played very position at Penn State pretty much and I'm comfortable with it. I have no issues. Again, at Penn State, we did that -- we played a 4-3 and 3-4. So it wouldn't be a problem."
Jones, who started 23 games the past two years, said he worked extra with Johnson on his hand placement and quickness last season. "I spent a lot of time with Coach Johnson and really tried to work on it when I could," he said. "My stats got better and it paid off and helped me out."
Jones trained with former Penn State teammates Silas Redd (USC transfer) and Khairi Fortt (California) in Pensacola, Florida prior to coming to the combine. All three wee among more than 330 players taking part in the 2014 event. "It was pretty neat," Jones said. "It was interesting. We call each other and hang out. It was good to catch up."
The most Jones has ever weighed was 333 pounds, prior to his junior year at Penn State.
Now at 322, he said he hopes to shed a few more pounds before training camp opens in July. "Right now, I'm at 322 and I feel good," he said. "I don't feel heavy. If I stay there or go down, I will be okay."
The former Johnson City Senior High School standout has excellent physical attributes and possesses a challenging combination of size, strength and quickness. He has shown the ability to occupy and fight through multiple offensive linemen to provide more opportunities for teammates to make plays when he's not in the backfield himself.
Jones' talents, desire and fierce work-ethic in the strength and conditioning program have seen him drop weight, while increasing his strength. Last August, he was among the squad members who bench pressed more than 400 pounds. The criminology major also spent a portion of his summer as an intern observing the Spring Township Police Department near State College.
Jones started 23-of-46 games at Penn State, with all of his starting assignments coming during the last two seasons…The former offensive lineman finished with 92 tackles (48 solos), adding 4.5 sacks for minus 28 yards, 15.5 stops for losses totaling 55 yards, two fumble recoveries and a pass deflection.