Hill and Jones have the potential to be one of the top duos in the Big Ten.
With preseason practice underway, we're kicking off our 12 for 2012 series that will run up to close to the start of the season. The list won't necessarily cover the 12 best players on the squad, but those whose production and presence on and off the field will be needed the most if the Nittany Lions are to have the kind of success they're looking for this season.
No. 12 -- Defensive tackle DaQuan Jones
Rewind: Rivals had Jones as the No. 2 ranked high school player in New York State in the Class of 2010. Like many talented freshmen, he wasted little time breaking into Larry Johnson's defensive line rotation, burning his redshirt in the Iowa game in 2010. Injuries decimated the Nittany Lions' defensive line that year, so Jones filled in at defensive end in a handful of games. He saw most of his action at tackle, though, and finished the year with six tackles, including a pair of solo stops in the bowl game against Florida. Last season, he again was a reserve behind Devon Still and Jordan Hill, finishing the season with eight tackles in 247 snaps.
The Take: Jones learned from playing behind the best during his first two seasons. Now is his time to show what he has learned. Hill figures to tie up two blockers on most plays, which should leave Jones with some one-on-one matchups. If he can command the same kind of attention on the other end of the line, as Hill did for Still last season, it will be extremely tough to run the ball on the Nittany Lions. Jones reported to preseason camp at 324 pounds, up from his weight of 317 this spring, but at 6-foot-3, he can handle that weight. Penn State will need plenty of reps out of him as there is relatively little depth at defensive tackle, with veteran James Terry as the only backup tackle with any real playing experience.
The Forecast: Jones has shown plenty of potential during his first two seasons -- an ability to get into the backfield, to make plays on the ball carrier and to tie up or eliminate blockers. The Nittany Lions will now need him to do it on a consistent basis, and he'll have the chance. Size, strength and speed have never been a problem with Jones, and two years working with Johnson should have his technique more refined. Playing alongside Hill will make him that much better. Look for Jones to put up modest numbers but for him to be a key part of a front seven that has the potential to be one of the best in the Big Ten.