Jets' Coples ready to break out after quiet start
Quinton Coples used to zip around the football field, catching passes as a big, intimidating and speedy wide receiver.
That was back in his early high school days in North Carolina, a few years and several pounds before Coples became a dominant college defensive lineman and a first-round draft pick of the New York Jets.
''Oh, yeah, I was a good receiver and wanted to be a wide receiver at one point in time,'' the 6-foot-6, 290-pound Coples said with a laugh Friday. ''There was too much running and all that, though, so I couldn't do it.''
It's hard to imagine by looking at him now, but Coples insists he had the speed to be a force at the position.
''I was lighter and quicker,'' he said, grinning. ''I was a big receiver and could stretch the field, man. But, yeah, too much running.''
Coples runs much shorter paths these days, coming off the defensive line and aiming for opposing quarterbacks. He did that so often at the University of North Carolina that Rex Ryan and the Jets knew they had to have him. Not only that, after taking him with the 16th overall pick in April, Ryan declared that Coples would make an immediate impact.
Well, so far, the rookie has been mostly quiet through three games. But Ryan thinks Coples is about to break out - and thinks it could happen Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
''I'm sure his play time will go up,'' Ryan said. ''He had his best day of practice (Wednesday). I had him break us down, so I think he's ready to go. I believe you're going to see him a lot more.''
Coples had a terrific preseason, leading the Jets with 4 1/2 sacks and raising expectations for a player with a reputation for making big plays at times but also struggling to maintain focus during others at North Carolina. Some of those concerns came up during training camp and, to some extent, at the beginning of the season.
He has just three tackles - one solo - and two quarterback hurries in limited action. But Coples believes that will all change soon.
''I would definitely say that things are clicking better now,'' Coples said. ''I never got frustrated. It was just the process for me. I'm just understanding things a lot better now.''
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has been impressed lately by how Coples has begun to step up in practice and show some real glimpses of the guy who had 10 sacks as a junior in college.
''The big thing now is getting him to carry it over to a game,'' Pettine said. ''He has flashed in games and has made some plays, but again, as with rookies, it's the level of consistency and there's no substitute for game experience against NFL teams.''
Against the 49ers, the Jets will need their front seven to put pressure on Alex Smith, especially with star cornerback Darrelle Revis sidelined by a knee injury. New York needs to disrupt Smith's timing so he can't key in on his trio of wide receivers in Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and Randy Moss, and athletic tight end Vernon Davis.
And that's where Coples' pass-rushing skills come in.
''I think Q kind of understands, `OK, this is how things work, and this is how I fit into the scheme of things,''' nose tackle Sione Po'uha said. ''He's always had great effort, always had great technique, but I think it's almost becoming more of a second nature to him.''
For Coples, it's all about managing his time better - on and off the field. It's different from college, of course, and he realizes all that now.
''You have to change your mindset from just loving and playing the game to living the game,'' he said. ''For five or six months, every play, you've got to be living the game of football.''
Learning the defensive schemes has been less difficult than adjusting to offenses for Coples. There's knowing and reacting to the formations, the personnel and shedding different types of blocks.
And he hopes, at some point soon, that his first ''real'' NFL sack comes in a big spot for the Jets.
''I don't know how it'll turn out,'' Coples said, ''but I'm pretty sure it'll be an exciting moment for me.''
That will at least give his teammates something to tease him about - instead of the jokes about the huge Omega symbols branded on each of his shoulders. They're from his sophomore year at North Carolina, when he chose to get his body scarred as a sign of his commitment to the Omega Psi Phi fraternity.
''They just find it really interesting and keep asking the same question: `Hey, did it hurt?''' Coples said of his Jets teammates with a laugh. ''It actually didn't hurt at all.''
That's pretty hard to believe, considering each of the symbols pop up off his skin so high, it's tough not to stare at them.
''You have nerves in your body that tell you things hurt, but the fire kills the nerves and it doesn't hurt,'' Coples explained. ''It depends on how it's done. I did mine like the real deal. Some people do it where it's not all the way on fire, and it's just real, real hot.
''I did mine with it totally on fire.''
Sounds like the perfect type of guy for Ryan's defense.
''The only thing I promised my Mom and my stepfather I would do is graduate high school,'' Coples said. ''Other than that, it was God's plan to do everything else. I never looked at myself as having special talent. I just played the game of football and it all turned out for the best.''
NOTES: Rookie WR Stephen Hill (hamstring) is doubtful for the game against the 49ers, while TE Dustin Keller (hamstring), FB John Conner (knee), LB Bart Scott (toe), LB Bryan Thomas (hamstring) and WR Patrick Turner (hamstring) are all questionable. ... Defensive backs coach Dennis Thurman said ''I'm not going to lose any sleep'' over losing Revis. Kyle Wilson will start in Revis' place opposite Cromartie with backups CBs Ellis Lankster and Isaiah Trufant seeing increased playing time. ''It's time for them to go play, take the pacifiers out of their mouth, so to speak,'' Thurman said. ''They've got to go out and it's time for them to eat meat. We'll find out how they digest it.'' ... Backup QB Tim Tebow on his transition from last season in Denver to his current role with the Jets: ''This time last year, I was just kind of hanging out on the sidelines. I would say I have a lot more of a role now than I did this time last year. But obviously, everything from then to now has been a rollercoaster, but it's been fun.''
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