It's become something of a tradition of late for a Penn State defensive tackle to rise up and turn in a standout senior year.
That happened with Devon Still in 2011, when he won Big Ten defensive player of the year honors. Jordan Hill took the baton and ran with it in 2012. Could DaQuan Jones be next in line? As the only senior with any starting experience on the line, he fits the profile.
“I definitely think he has the potential to do that," defensive end Deion Barnes told ESPN.com. "He has a great opportunity this year. Even though he’s got the target on his back, he can do it.”
At 6-foot-3 and 333 pounds, Jones sure looks like a guy who can throw his weight around in the middle of the line, even if he hasn't put up numbers to back that up. He had 22 tackles and only two tackles for loss last year, hardly Still or Hill type stats.
When asked to assess his first three years at Penn State, Jones said, "Decent. Average. I felt like I can do a lot more personally. I know I could have done a lot better."
Jones, though, says he's not focusing on his own improvement this spring as much as making sure he helps others around him get better. A trio of redshirt freshmen -- Austin Johnson, Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia -- are all vying to replace Hill at nose tackle this spring.
"I'll try to take the role and become the next guy," Jones said of following the Still and Hill tradition. "But at the same time, I'm not going to be as good as them if I don't have the support players. If I shine, I shine, and if I don't, I don't. I just want defensive line to do good, and I'm happy with that."
Barnes said Jones is "setting the bar for the younger guys" as a leader this spring.
"I like to watch film," Jones said. "Every day, twice a day. I'm just trying to get the young guys in there to watch film. Learning with each other what we have to do so that when we go on the field we don't make mistakes."
Jones has been dealing with a lower back issue that has limited his reps, and he says he's unsure if he'll play in Saturday's spring game. But he said he and the training staff are mostly being cautious with the injury, and that it's not something that should cause him problems this fall.
He played next to Hill last season and saw what Hill did on his way to All-Big Ten honors. Jones keeps in close contact with Hill, and watches film of him.
"We'll never have another Jordan Hill," he said. "I can't tell you I'll be another Jordan Hill. What he brought to the table was special, and he just did a lot of things other defensive tackles can't do. We're going to miss him a lot. But at the same time, I think we have guys who can step up and fill that role."
Maybe it will end up being Jones who fills that role. If so, he'll be carrying on a tradition.
"I'm going to be more of an aggressive player," he said. "Last year, I felt like I just trying to do my job and help out other D-line guys. This year, I'm going to try to be more aggressive and make big plays."