Throughout Quinton Coples’ three-year NFL career, the Jets former first-round pick has always had a ‘what if’ factor hovering in the air around him.
No, there weren’t any questions regarding Coples’ physical talent, as it was obvious he could play at the NFL level. No one ever questioned his ability to stay out of trouble off the field, either.
See, the biggest question surrounding Coples was the one he really had no way of answering:
What if he just got a chance to play his natural position?
Since being selected 16th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, Coples has been a bit of an ‘everything’ man for the Jets. In former head coach Rex Ryan’s defensive scheme, he’d line up occasionally at outside linebacker, defensive end and defensive tackle. Heck, several times in 2014 he even wandered outside and played press cornerback. But what Coples rarely got a chance to play was the position many deemed him best suited for:
At 6-6 and 290 pounds, Coples has the perfect build to play a traditional 4-3 defensive end. The Jets, at least since Ryan took command in 2009, have run a 3-4. Coples, in turn, has been a bit of a round peg trying to fit into a square hole.
“I really just want to be successful,” Coples said on Wednesday when the Jets reported for training camp. “I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can humanly possible to make sure that I’m helping this team out as much as possible and making as many plays as possible.”
And it’s not as if Coples hasn’t had success, he’s actually pretty been solid throughout his career. In 46 games, Coples has recorded 103 tackles, 16.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Last year, he set a new career-high with 6.5 sacks. The numbers are solid, borderline good even, but a bit less than what the Jets were hoping for from a first-round pick.
The issue with Coples is that he never found his niche within Ryan’s defense. He doesn’t have the speed to be a dominant edge-rushing, 3-4 outside linebacker. New York already has Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson -- two all-pro caliber defensive linemen—at defense end. So, Coples has been splitting time everywhere, doing his best where he’s been placed.
And, again, he's been solid. But with each rep Coples has played out of position, the question has been raised to what he’d be capable of if he was allowed to play with his hand in the dirt.
This season, he may finally get a chance to supply an answer.
Since replacing Ryan following the 2014 season, Todd Bowles has said, on paper, the Jets will be listed as a 3-4 defense. But in games, the team plans to use a variety of fronts that can change each week, quarter, series or even drive depending on the opponent New York is facing.
At times, the Jets will be in lined up as a 3-4 defense. Then, they won’t be. When New York switches to a 4-3, Coples may be given an opportunity to play defensive end with the likes of, Wilkerson, Richardson and rookie Leonard Williams lined up down the line from him.
That thought has Coples thrilled for the season to begin, and with the Jets set to participate in the team’s first training camp practice on Thursday, he’ll get his first chance to see where he fits in with Bowles’ new defense.
“I think the guys are buying into the program,” Coples said. “I think we have a great leader with Todd Bowles on the staff. The front office did a tremendous job in the offseason of getting guys here and locking down positions and things that we needed help in, areas that we needed help in.
“It’s exciting, it’s good to see. We’ll know as training camp progresses.”