Penn State puzzle pieces: Why Deion Barnes is right choice, Beau Pribula's new role ...
Penn State begins spring practice in its most promising − and stable positioning − in four years.
The Nittany Lions are returning highly-regarded coordinators, one of the top running back combinations in the country and a defense sprinkled with All-America candidates.
They've got a long-awaited 5-star quarterback taking over.
And they just filled their one staff vacancy with the most familiar, promising candidate possible.
Former Lions' pass rusher Deion Barnes, considered a rising star in the coaching profession, will now be in charge of Penn State's defensive line. The announcement came Monday, on the eve of spring practice.
It's an important hire, considering how the Lions' defensive line play, particularly sacking the opposing quarterback, has regularly been among the best in the Big Ten and beyond.
Though it will be his first full-time college job, Barnes will be expected to be the equal or better than Penn State's two previous line coaches − Sean Spencer and John Scott, Jr. Both left Penn State for NFL jobs.
Barnes is the third former Lion on Franklin's on-field staff, joining cornerbacks' coach Terry Smith and tight ends coach Ty Howle.
Barnes' work will be closely watched and critiqued, now more than ever. The Lions expect to have their best chance at knocking off perennial Big Ten East heavyweights Ohio State and Michigan and qualifying for their first College Football Playoff bid in 2023.
To make that happen, Barnes' pass rushers must live up to their high expectations and his questionable interior line situation must develop and thrive.
So why was he the choice over more experienced and proven outside candidates?
First, Franklin called out Barnes' passion for Penn State while informing his team of the hire in a university-released video:
"Deion's earned it over the last three years here, busting his ass, doing everything right," Franklin said in the video. "When he interviewed ... he showed us he was ready."
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz echoed that enthusiasm: "Deion interviewed for this job every damn day. Every day. His role may change but the standard of his work doesn't need to change."
On Tuesday, during Franklin's traditional press conference to kick off spring practice, he gave a lengthy explanation of how Barnes' strong relationships with his players, experience training some of the best defensive linemen in the country and his upside as a recruiter, won him the job.
Barnes coached and trained elite high school players in his native Philadelphia before serving as a graduate assistant coach under Franklin the past three years.
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"He has the ability to be hard and demanding on (players) in a way they respect and can relate to. A lot of times, younger coaches have a hard time with that," Franklin said.
And during his Penn State interview, “You felt ... not only did you hear it, but you felt his passion for coaching the d-line, you felt his passion for Penn State and you felt his passion for this specific group of defensive linemen that he has a relationship with."
Maybe most importantly: “I think Deion will be able to build off what we’ve done the past couple of years, but I think he will be able to put his stamp on it as well," Franklin said. "One of the things important to him is effort. We think there’s a little bit left in the tank to get our guys to play on a different level when it comes to effort" on the defensive line.
During his three previous seasons at Penn State, Barnes helped coach 11 All-Big Ten defensive linemen and a second-team All-American. He tutored defensive tackle PJ Mustipher, who was a two-time captain for the Nittany Lions and a three-time All-Big Ten honoree.
Penn State led the Big Ten with 104 tackles for loss and 42 sacks in 2022.
Barnes also was a standout player for the Nittany Lions, which carries coaching weight. He was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2012 and was an elite pass rusher before leaving early for the NFL in 2014. He spent one season with the New York Jets, another with the Kansas City Chiefs.
How Beau Pribula pushes Drew Allar, finds role
Though 5-star sophomore Drew Allar is the clear No. 1 quarterback for now, “there could be some situations where Beau actually gets more reps by the end of spring," Franklin said of Pribula, the former Central York star.
"Because I think there’s some things we may want to do with Beau to take advantage of his skill set and maybe create an opportunity for him to get some more experience, not only in spring practice but in games in the fall. So we’ll see how that plays out."
Franklin did not offer more specifics. Of course, Pribula's athleticism and running ability do offer a different look from Allar. Pribula ran for nearly 950 yards, combined, during his Pennsylvania player of the year junior and senior seasons at Central.
Frank Bodani covers Penn State football for the York Daily Record and USA Today Network. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @YDRPennState.