There have been a lot of questions and concerns surrounding New York Jets OLB/DE Quinton Coples this season, as expectations for a breakout second year have been tempered following a slow start for the former first round pick out of UNC.
The last time we saw the “real” Quinton Coples, he was manhandling Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert in the preseason, forcing a fumble as he threw the quarterback to the MetLife turf. That was the same play, in fact, where we saw Coples go down with a hairline fracture in his ankle.
I’d be kidding myself if I said I had a definitive answer to what has sent Coples seemingly into the Witness Protection Program. Truth is, this early season “slump” is likely a combination of a number of factors. But I wanted to take a closer look to try and pinpoint what issues specifically are contributing to a complete lack of production.
No. 1: Is He Healthy? This seems to be the most popular opinion, and my best guess as to what sent his production into a standstill in 2013. Considering Coples’ ankle injury suffered during that pre-season game in late August required surgery, it’s really not fair for anyone to expect immediate results upon his return–despite his unusually quick rehab. Realistically, the fact that he was even able to get back on the field as quickly as he did is an impressive feat in its own right, and is something he should be commended for.
But while it’s fair to say that the ankle will slow down his ability to impact games (and evolve as an OLB), it’s not an excuse for his disappearing act the past few weeks. If you’re not healthy enough to help the team on the field, you probably shouldn’t be on the field (which appears to be Rex’s philosophy of late, as Coples has seen Garrett McIntyre take a number of his snaps over the past few weeks).
It’s tough to play doctor from your living room couch, but from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t look like he’s favoring the ankle. He still looks pretty quick and fluid in his movement, and has shown some of the things that made him a top 20 draft pick in 2012. Where he’s lacking, though, is in his ability to transition from speed to power, as TOJ Staff Writer Mike O’Conner (and others) highlighted following the Jets Monday night game in Atlanta two weeks ago (pictured below).
Coples is one of the first Jets DL out of his stance, as he flies past Atlanta LT Lamar Holmes with an inside move. This shows me that Coples’ quickness isn’t the issue hampering his production right now.
This sequence of events may be a result his leg lacking strength Whatever the case, it’s pretty clear that something isn’t right. Seeing QC completely neutralized by a RB half his size is, at the very least, alarming.
No. 2: What Impact Does the Position Change Have? This is bit overblown, in my opinion, as Coples assignment as Rex’s “Rush Linebacker” since returning from injury has been very similar to Coples original designation in his rookie year on the defensive line. Yes, Rex has asked QC to help in coverage slightly more often this year. And yes, Coples has struggled to adapt to that part of the position change. But if you take a closer look, it’s pretty evident that Coples’ responsibilities the past few weeks have been that of a DE, not an OLB.
Against Pittsburgh, Coples only played one snap at OLB (thanks once again to Mike O’Connor for his snap count stats), compared to 37 snaps at the three/five technique. This has been the case for a few weeks now, which basically makes the “Can Coples play OLB” question futile.
No. 3: A Lack of Fire? Coples had the dubious distinction of being tagged as a guy who “lacks the necessary fire” during the 2012 pre-draft process, after his production declined following an impressive junior year. And while many people have been wrong when judging the character of drafties, it’s still something to consider–assuming, of course, that the lack of intensity on tape isn’t related to previously mentioned ankle injury.
It’s hard to make a distinction like this about a player when you have no actual evidence of their work ethic or desire. Because of that, I almost didn’t include this category in the article. But it’s something to think about, especially when you look at how easily he’s been neutralized this season. If a lack of fire is causing a lack of production, Rex will need to employ his best motivational tactics on the highly-touted pass rusher.
Diagnosis: In the end, I think it’s pretty clear that the ankle isn’t 100 percent yet (Coples was actually quoted as saying as much following the loss to Pittsburgh). The fact that he got back on the field so quickly (after showing some promise in the pre-season), got some people a little over-hyped about his ability to come back and impact games –possibly including Rex Ryan.
While Rex has been playing to QC’s strengths the past few weeks, Coples has yet to respond. In my opinion (again, without any insider information) the smartest thing to do would be to sit him down, even if it’s for a few weeks, to ensure that his ankle is fully healed. He’s becoming somewhat of a liability when he’s on the field, and Rex is getting better production from other guys on the roster, including McIntyre (who looks to have improved since last season).
Hopefully this becomes a non-issue following Sunday’s game against New England. But if he continues to struggle the way he has, something has to be done to correct the issue. If it’s ignored, forcing Coples out there could continue to haunt the defense…possibly for the rest of the season.