The Penn State senior finally may be getting back into top form.
All while his freshman counterpart has been watching, learning.
And now the two defensive ends hope to team together to become more of a force down the stretch for the Nittany Lions, starting with Saturday at Purdue.
Sean Stanley is the senior bothered by the bad back just when it seemed he would finally be an every-down star.
Deion Barnes is the promising redshirt freshman who is learning as he goes, having started six times and played even more meaningful minutes than expected — in part because of nagging injuries to Stanley and senior Pete Massaro.
“Any kind of advice I ask him for, he helps me,” Barnes said of Stanley. “Pass rushing, stopping the run. He’s doing a great job helping me out this year.
“He’s a better run-stopper than me, and he knows how to read certain plays better,” Barnes said. During practice and during games, “We talk about what I see, what he sees. He knows most of teams already.”
Said Stanley: “Me and Deion are real close. We talk every day, joking around. We help each other out by making it a competition, like who has the most tackles, the most tackles for loss.”
Before this fall, Stanley was still known mostly as a promising player. Last year was his best, starting six games and accumulating 4.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss to go with 30 total tackles.
He was pegged as a senior standout this season before a back injury in the summer hung on and eventually forced him to miss a game.
And even when he returned, he was providing uneven performances leading up to Ohio State. That’s when enjoyed probably the best night on the Lions’ talented line.
He had a career-best seven tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss while assisting on a sack. For the season, he has 23 tackles and 4.5 TFLs.
“He has played every game this year with a back issue,” said coach Bill O’Brien. “If you know anything about back issues, to play defensive end in the Big Ten and play the way he plays is a credit to him.
“He’s a tough guy. I’ve enjoyed watching him play and getting to know him and I wish we had him for longer than we do, but I’ve seen him develop and get better and better.
“He almost blocked a punt (against Ohio State), and we were only in a punt-safe (scheme), and he came close to blocking a punt because of his own effort, his own work ethic.”
Finally, Stanley says he’s close to fully-healed.
For Barnes, it’s simply about learning the nuances of the position.
He actually seemed to have more success and impact early in the season when opposing offenses didn’t know much about him.
He recorded his first two sacks in the second week at Virginia. He followed that with five tackles, another sack, and was named Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Week against Navy.
He is second in the Big Ten with two forced fumbles and just outside of the top 10 with 4.0 sacks.
He said he needs to improve the most on stopping running plays, which means even more work in the weight room and more experience at reading offensive linemen tendencies.
Barnes is “big, athletic and he’s rangy, he’s instinctive,” O’Brien said. “He understands things that he sees. Offensively, he can think about what’s going to happen before it happens, so he’s able to react faster.
“He and Sean Stanley, that whole defensive line, that’s a close group. Offensive and defensive lines are always close with each other and with their coaches because that’s a very physical position that they play.”
Whatever Barnes grows into during his next two or three years at Penn State, some of the influence came from Stanley.
The senior and the freshman.
For their most memorable time together, go back to the Illinois game.
They combined to sack quarterback Nate Scheelhaase.
“I hit him up top and he hit him down low,” Barnes said. “I think (Scheelhaase) stopped scrambling after that.”