Quinton Coples' Switch to Outside Linebacker Continues to Be a Work in Progress
Now that the Jets have compiled a 2-1 record through three games, the attention now turns to how the team's roster has changed after another week.
One of the most important aspects from last week's game against the Buffalo Bills that the Jets will need to look at is how well Quinton Coples adjusted to his new role at outside linebacker in his first game back from a fractured ankle.
For Coples, making the transition to a new position (and playing at a new weight) was going to be difficult enough for a player who was a defensive lineman for much of his collegiate career. The biggest adjustment for Coples, however, will be how well he moves in space going forward—something he never did in college—without losing the pass-rushing ability that made him a first-round pick last year.
Let’s take a look at how Coples fared in his first regular-season action as an outside linebacker.
Where He Lined Up
As just about everyone predicted, Coples’ position switch was more of a formality than a declaration of what his role will be on defense.
Even with his ankle injury, Coples could be spotted all over the defensive line in a variety of stances, whether his hand was in the dirt or he was standing up.
Coples lined up all over the place: 34 snaps at defensive end, 15 at defensive tackle, and 9 at outside linebacker. Not bad 4 debut! #Jets— Erik from @JetsTwit (@e_man) September 24, 2013
Here he is standing up in what looks like a 3-4 outside linebacker look, but it is actually a 4-3 “under” look. Notice how the three down lineman are all shifted to the left, kicking Calvin Pace up to the “sam” position, as Coples slid down to fill the last spot on the defensive line.
Here, Coples is essentially playing the role of a 4-3 defensive end, except for the fact that he is standing up:
A few plays later, Coples was in a “wide-nine” stance, a position that is typically reserved for rushing the passer on obvious passing downs:
Finally, Coples lined up in a 3-4 position but with his hand in the dirt—this was one of the more common positions he lined up in:
While Coples lined up all over the defensive line, he was rarely asked to drop into coverage. This is certainly a logical decision by the Jets coaches, as giving Coples extra responsibilities in coverage while dealing with an injury could have been a recipe for disaster.
How Has He Looked?
Clearly, the Jets defensive coaching staff was confident enough in Coples to play him as much as they did and line up him in so many different stances with various gap assignments. But how exactly did he look in those roles?
After all, lining up is the easy part, and it’s the stuff between the whistles where players make their money.
Generally, it was a positive showing for Coples, especially given his injury. He did not exactly stand out on tape, which is both a good and a bad thing.
The good news is that Coples was not a liability and was able to move around like a man with a healthy ankle. However, he did run into some problems when it came to engaging other players and imposing his brute strength on opponents.
Coples was also rarely on the field for third downs, as he was replaced by Antwan Barnes. When Coples is healthy, Barnes will likely start to replace Calvin Pace instead in order to take advantage of Coples’ athleticism when rushing the passer.
The Good: Endurance
Barely a month into his recovery from a fractured ankle, Quinton Coples played much more than the Jets likely intended him to, taking 57 out of 86 snaps, which was good for 66 percent of the team's total defensive plays.
The main reason why Coples was on the field for so much was because the Bills spend too much time in their three-and four-receiver sets, which calls for a heavy use of the dime package by opposing defenses. Because of his ability to rush the passer, Coples is a big part of what the Jets do on passing downs.
While the Bills may have dictated the Jets’ defensive personnel more than they would have liked, the Jets would not have kept putting Coples in the game if he weren’t at least able to defend himself.
Coples did not record a sack and only had three tackles all game, but he moved around rather well for a man playing in an NFL game at a time when most people would still have their foot in a cast.
Throughout the game, Coples ran down plays and chased after players that were much faster than he was. Here, Coples starts out on the far side of the field and follows a pass all the way to the near side, not looking hobbled one bit the entire way over:
Also, notice how high he gets when he jumps up to bat down a pass:
If there is anything we learned about Coples from last Sunday, it is that the man is clearly in shape and appears to have the concerns about his hustle behind him.
The Bad: Lack of Power
Again, Coples was able to play for a long time without embarrassing himself, but he was not quite the same dominant pass-rusher that we are used to seeing—and his nearly empty stat sheet reflected his lack of disruptiveness.
Coples’ best attribute is his ability to convert power and strength into leverage, pushing linemen back into the line of scrimmage—an attribute that was clearly missing in his 2013 debut.
On this third-down play (that resulted in EJ Manuel’s big scramble), Coples is easily stood up by the guard and completely taken out of the play.
Notice how upright he is, despite getting good hand placement on the lineman. Coples is trying to get under the guard, but he simply does not have the power to do so:
As a result, Coples is flattened to the ground within seconds, which helped open up the running lane for Manuel:
As a result, it was a mixed bag for Coples in his debut. He was able to play for the majority of the game without being a huge liability, but his effectiveness when rushing the passer simply was not quire there.
Coples needs a sturdy lower body to push and explode like the incredible athlete he is, but being just four weeks removed from a fractured ankle, he simply is not capable of doing the same actions that have made him so effective in that area.
Still, despite his zero-sack performance, the sheer fact that he was able to play shows as much about his once-questionable heart and toughness as it does about his recovery time. Clearly, Coples did everything possible to get back on the field as soon he could without losing a hint of conditioning in the process.
Eventually, Coples will resume his ascension in the pass-rusher ranks as his ankle continues to heal (barring a setback), but expectations should be tempered and kept realistic for a player who has already surpassed expectations to this point.
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