Any question as to why the New York Jets were comfortable drafting Sheldon Richardson was likely answered when it was learned that 2012 first-rounder Quinton Coples would be moving, at least during certain situations, to outside linebacker.
And just as long as Rex Ryan doesn't expect Coples, who is currently a 290-pound interior player, to be a traditional outside linebacker. Such a transition could give Ryan one of the more flexible pass-rushing pieces he's had in some time.
Rich Cimini of ESPN New York reported Coples' transition to an edge position for 2013 on Wednesday.
As far back as the scouting combine in February, Rex Ryan started dropping hints about Quinton Coples becoming more of an edge player. He'll be on the edge, all right. Coples, used mostly as an interior lineman as a rookie, will be moved to 3-4 outside linebacker, according to a league source.
Ryan certainly hasn't been shy about giving Coples more chances in an attacking position out wide. Even late in 2012, Coples was standing up as a pass rusher and playing more in space.
At #Jets open locker room, Quinton Coples confirms he'll play OLB this season. Looks forward to having more opportunities to get to QB— Dennis Waszak Jr. (@DWAZ73) May 2, 2013
This offseason, the itch to move Coples wide intensified.
At the NFL combine, Ryan went as far as comparing Coples to Terrell Suggs, a former college defensive end who Ryan helped turn into one of the game's most talented and versatile edge rushers.
From the JET Press:
He’s (Coples) certainly a guy that we’re excited about. He’s just scratching the surface. We’re kind of approaching him the same way we approached Terrell Suggs (in Baltimore). I remember Ozzie Newsome coming to me and saying, “Rex, we’re going to put Terrell in your room." So you take a guy that’s a rush linebacker-type guy and you put him in that defensive line room. We did the same thing with Quinton. I see him as a guy that can maybe be more of an edge presence than he was that first year...
With Richardson capable of handling Coples' interior duties, it's now on Ryan to figure out the best way to use Coples as an edge player.
Even as a defensive coordinator in Baltimore, Ryan has always utilized multiple fronts and sub-packages—you can only assume that such a trend will continue with Coples moving outside. Ryan can have him stand up as a more traditional 3-4 outside linebacker, or, like Suggs, he can put his hand in the dirt and still have the rest of the defensive line aligned in a three-man front.
The always quotable Rex Ryan: "I think Quinton Coples is going to be a beast."— Sean Jensen (@seankjensen) March 19, 2013
Coples doesn't come into this situation with zero experience, either.
Ryan worked out Coples extensively as an outside linebacker at the 2012 NFL combine, where Coples ran both the 40-yard dash and short shuttle in 4.78 seconds. He should have a strong idea about what kind of athlete Coples can be in space. His times at the combine are evidence of short-area quickness from the former UNC pass rusher, too.
Even during the final stretch of last season, Ryan had Coples as more of a movable chess piece.
According to the Jets Blog, Coples was used in a stand-up position on at least 27 snaps over the final three games of 2012. They provide an example of when Coples was asked to rush the passer as a stand-up linebacker against Tennessee Titans left tackle Michael Roos, and Coples provided a quarterback hurry and hit.
On the play, Coples used his strong hands and surprising quickness to beat Roos to the inside and get to quarterback Jake Locker.
Is moving Quinton Coples to OLB the right move for the Jets defense?
Of course, this is only one play over a very small sample size of Coples playing out wide.
At 290 pounds, the Jets employed Coples on the interior for over 500 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He provided 29 quarterback disruptions (six sacks, nine quarterback hits and 14 quarterback hurries) despite playing on less than half of the total defensive snaps.
To be an effective outside linebacker, Coples will likely have to drop weight. He was 284 pounds at the 2012 NFL combine, but he can likely play with little problem at 275. Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas, the Jets two starters at the position last season, both weighed in the 265-pound range.
While a risk, few coaches are more qualified to sign off on such a transition than Ryan.
If the defensive expert can get Coples comfortable in more of a Terrell Suggs-like role where he's playing both stood up and with his hand in the dirt, depending on the situation, it could really pay off for Ryan in 2013 and beyond.
The Jets should now head into next season with a potential pass-rushing combination of Coples, Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson, Kenrick Ellis and Antwan Barnes. There's a lot of attacking talent in those five names, especially if Coples transitions as well to the outside as Ryan thinks he can.