What do we know about New York Jets pass rusher Quinton Coples? The man is a physical specimen; a 6’6″ – 290 pound behemoth that can run like a tight end (4.78 second 40). His rare blend of size, speed, and power provide versatility and the potential to be a match up nightmare. All positive and all tantalizing.
It is what we do not know about Coples that is concerning. We have yet to see the 23 year old pass rusher put it together and make strides towards his potential.
Rex Ryan and the defensive staff brought Coples along slowly his rookie season, he was in on only 47% of the defensive snaps. With Mike DeVito and Muhammad Wilkerson taking the majority of reps at defensive end, Coples was religated to a relief or situational role. However, after a two sack outing in the week six win over Indianapolis, Coples snap count jumped. By the end of the year, Coples was taking snaps from DeVito and racked in three and a half sacks in four games.
With Coples’ arrow pointing up going into 2013, many in the Jets media circles pegged him as a break out candidate. Even we at TOJ hopped on the hype train. Early preseason glimpses seemed to validate our expectations when Coples tore through both the Lions and Jaguars first-team offensive linemen. After strip sacking Blaine Gabbert, however, Coples landed awkwardly on his ankle and fractured it. This delayed the Coples hype train at the station as the pass rusher missed four games.
However, the man that stepped on the field for the first time against the Bills in week two was not the same one we saw in pre-season. For much of the season, Coples looked like a shell of himself. Only around week seven, with a brilliant game clinching sack of Drew Brees, did Coples begin to reemerge. Even then, Coples could not string together consistent performances until the last five games of the season, again tallying three and a half sacks.
In October of last season, our Frank Giansone discussed the possible factors that may have contributed to Coples’ slump. His health was the popular explanation for the disappearance. It was suggested that he rushed back from injury, limiting his practice time and on-field ability. The position change from defensive end to outside linebacker was also assigned some blame. However, as often discussed on this site, the designation was overblown. Coples spent most of his time in a three point stance and tasked only with rushing the passer.
The most concerning factor discussed was Coples’ possible lack of fire. This dubious trait was a perceived weakness in his game during the pre-draft process. According to his teammates and coaches, this distinction is far from the truth. However, a lack of motivation is not an easy fault to address and even the slightest kernel of truth to these rumors is troublesome.
Sidebar: Coples is one of the Jets players I have had the honor of meeting and his passion was evident in our conversations. I have no personal questions about his motor or love of the game.
Wether you consider these factors excuses or explanations, the lack of results is dismaying. Coples has all the talent in the world, it is just a matter of him putting it all together. Going into the 2014 season, Coples has no excuses. In year one he was still learning and on a pitch count. In year two, he was hampered by a number of factors. Coples has now had two years to adapt to the play book, a clean bill of health, and no leash in terms of snaps. His time is now.
How good can this defense be with Coples playing up to his potential? Lets take a look.
Here Coples lines up in the five technique in a three point stance. He bends to the outside shoulder of the tackle and uses his power to push the tackle deep into the backfield. After Bart Scott forces Andrew Luck to break the pocket, Coples uses a solid rip move to disengage from his blocker and take the rookie quarterback to the turf.
Here the Jets align in an amoeba or psycho front, characterized by the constant pre-snap motion and disguised assignments. Coples shoots the weakside B gap with outstanding explosion and tackles Leon Washington for a loss. This play highlights Coples’ speed and agility. Men of that stature usually struggle to hit those small gaps and navigate that kind of traffic.
Here Coples again lines up as the five technique end with his hand in the dirt. He stuns pro-bowl left tackle Nate Solder with a quick jab. He then bends the edge and strips the ball from Tom Brady.
These few glimpses of Coples when he is playing to his ability hint at numerous possibilities for next season. When looked at as a group, the three highlighted plays show Coples’ versatility. He uses a blend of power and finesse to both rush the passer and stuff the run. He can line up at five technique or rush the interior.
The third play (strip sack of Brady) shows the potential of the defensive line with Coples in the game. With Coples, Wilkerson, and Sheldon Richardson in the game together the pocket quickly collapses. Wilkerson and Richardson stunt, disrupting the interior protections. With the focus on the two ends, Coples is left on an island with Solder. Coples will be able to take advantage of these match ups that his fellow linemen provide him (it is worth mentioning that despite the double teams Wilkerson and Richardson still get in Brady’s face).
We now have two seasons worth of evidence to asses Coples, yet are no closer to a conclusion. There is evidence that points to Coples being a hot-and-cold player; one with both moments of brilliance and periods of silence. There is evidence to the contrary that Coples is ready to make the leap and put his first two seasons behind him. In truth, he is a conundrum, an enigma, an obscurum per obscurius. Coples leaves one with questions. Coples inspires hope. Hopefully, the 2014 season will provide some answers.