Jets' first-round pick, DE Quinton Coples, to open as third-down specialist
Published: Wednesday, August 01, 2012, 7:18 PM Updated: Wednesday, August 01, 2012, 7:29 PM
By Jenny Vrentas/The Star-Ledger
CORTLAND, N.Y. — The Jets put pads on Sunday, and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine could almost see the gears grinding in the head of the team’s first-round pick, slowing him down on the field.
But Pettine wasn’t worried. After watching fellow defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson as a rookie last year, he could diagnose exactly where Quinton Coples was at.
“Coming out of the spring, I think he felt he had a pretty good grasp on things, and they don’t know that they don’t know,” Pettine said. “They get a little overwhelmed, but you have to let them fail first.”
The Jets have a plan for Coples, Pettine explained: Throw him into the fire, then dial back and build him back up.
So they took Coples out of the first team “base” grouping, a 3-4 front that right now starts Sione Po’uha, Mike DeVito and Muhammad Wilkerson. Coples is still working with the first team in the “taco” call, a 4-3 front with Coples at the rush spot alongside Po’uha, DeVito and Wilkerson. He’s also in their 4-man sub front with Wilkerson and outside linebackers Calvin Pace and Aaron Maybin.
“We’ll work it from back to front,” Pettine said of Coples’ role. “He’ll be a third-down guy, similar to Maybin. Get him out there in passing situations and then work him into the base defense. Let him be a back-up for the guys in base, but keep his plate small.”
Soon after the Jets drafted Coples 16th overall out of North Carolina, coach Rex Ryan dubbed him a starter. But with a “multiple” Jets defense, starter has a loose definition.
For instance, while Pettine considers the Jets’ base defense the 3-4 set — with Pace, Bryan Thomas, Bart Scott and David Harris as the four linebackers — he also said they are using that look for maybe three plays per practice.
The bottom line is the Jets expect Coples to play a major role this year. Pettine said he’ll be in for 50 to 80 percent of the plays per game, depending on the kind of offense they are facing — and will likely be second only to Wilkerson in the number of snaps he takes.
But the coaches are being patient with Coples, pointing to the way Wilkerson gained momentum in his rookie season.
After practice today, Ryan stressed communication among the linemen. Coples has been looking to his teammates when they line up, and he’s been encouraged to grab the nearest veteran as a “thinking buddy.”
When Po’uha noticed a few days ago that Coples looked “robotic” on the field, he pulled him aside. “Just go out there and play,” Po’uha told him.
Coples spent the summer studying cut-ups from last season of the positions he’ll be playing this year, and is now soaking up position coach Karl Dunbar’s tips on hand movements to get off blocks. He’s a far cry from his naïve declaration at rookie mini-camp that he had “grasped the majority of the defensive playbook.”
“I’m comfortable but still learning,” Coples said this week. He added that he isn’t concerned whether he plays with the first or second-team defense, so long as he gets reps at all the spots he needs to learn.
One area that’s been challenging, he said, is studying linebacker techniques. Coples could be asked to drop back in certain sub packages, but the coaches said that’s not something he’ll be doing much of just yet.
Dunbar says Coples is having a good camp, praising what he’s seen in one-on-one pass rush drills. He and Pettine understand “the wall” they routinely see rookies hit, and they’re helping him around it.
“It is frustrating for him because he wants to come in, and I think he’s got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder for some of the things that were said about him,” Pettine said. “He’s a guy that he cares. He really wants to play well, and he doesn’t want to let anybody down.”
Jenny Vrentas: email@example.com