Before the season, NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt called Penn State's DaQuan Jones the best senior defensive tackle in the nation, and through two games, it's hard to argue with that call.
Jones (6-feet-3, 318 pounds) leads the team with 18 tackles and five tackles for loss; last season, he finished with 22 tackles and two tackles for loss. He also has two sacks; he had 1.5 in his career before this season.
"If he keeps playing the way he's playing," defensive coordinator John Butler told reporters early this week, "he's going to have a long future playing football after Penn State."
Jones has said he realized what was at stake this season.
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"Going into my last year, I wanted to make a difference and support my family after school," Jones told the Philadelphia Daily News. "So I'm thinking about my family, knowing it's my time to shine."
He has lost almost 10 pounds since the end of last season and credits his diet with helping him be more productive.
"I think, when you're talking to a young guy, a young big guy about losing weight, it's not always the easiest thing," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said during his weekly teleconference. "... When you're in pro football, those guys, they have the three meals right there and they've got a nutritionist watching them. ... 'This is what you should have for breakfast. This is what you should have for lunch. This is what you should for dinner. This is what you should have for snacks.' I think that's a big part of it, too. DaQuan's a guy that's taken that to heart."
Jones faces his toughest task yet this season on Saturday against UCF, a team whose blueprint for winning is to run effectively, especially between the tackles, and play solid defense. UCF's guards are the McCray twins, Jordan and Justin (both 6-3 and 310). Both are physical players that are better as run blockers than pass protectors.
A potential positive for Jones and the Nittany Lions' defense is that starting linebacker Mike Hull (6-0, 227) is expected to play against the Knights. Hull suffered a leg injury in the opener against Syracuse and missed last week's game with Eastern Michigan. If Hull misses another game, he likely would be replaced by converted safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (5-10, 205). Obeng-Agyapong's lack of size has the potential to create problems against a power running team such as UCF.