Quinton Coples excited about switch to outside linebacker

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne is tackled by

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne is tackled by Jets defensive end Quinton Coples during the second half. (Dec. 9, 2012) (Credit: AP)

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- By most accounts, the Jets failed to address a glaring need for a pass rusher in last week's draft.

Quinton Coples begs to differ, saying they didn't have to. Why? Because he insists he's the pass rusher they've been searching for all along.

Coples chuckled at his locker on Thursday after a morning workout at the Jets' training facility when he was reminded the Jets didn't draft a pure pass rusher like Barkevious Mingo or Jarvis Jones. Drafted as a 3-4 defensive end in Rex Ryan's scheme, Coples knows now that he'll be switched to the designated pass rusher in a hybrid defensive end/linebacker position. It's similar to the role played by Ravens pass rusher Terrell Suggs, who was trained by Ryan and eventually blossomed into the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year.

"I think it's going to be great," said Coples, the Jets' first-round pick in 2012. "I'm looking forward to this. It's going to open up opportunities for me."

Coples wound up leading the Jets with 5½ sacks last year. Not bad, considering he started only two games and needed time to acclimate himself to the pro game after a terrific run at North Carolina, where he had a combined 30½ sacks his last two years.

But Coples wasn't put in many pass rush-specific plays as a rookie. In fact, the defensive ends in a 3-4 alignment usually have it much tougher than outside linebackers, because they're lined up more toward the interior of the line. That means they face much more traffic inside, going up against guards and tackles on their way to the quarterback. Their responsibilities in the run game also prevent them from producing big sack numbers.

The shift this year means Coples will be rushing more from the edge, so he'll get a head start at the line of scrimmage by lining up outside the opposing tackle.

And to hear Coples explain it, this is what Ryan had in mind for him from the day he first saw him up close at North Carolina before last year's draft.

"I think Rex put this in mind when he went to my Pro Day ," Coples said. "I think that was his mindset from the beginning. Last year was a trial year."

There will be a few challenges for Coples in his new role. The first is that he'll occasionally be playing in space when he drops into pass coverage. At 285 pounds, that may not be so easy, although he says there won't be many times where he's asked to drop back.

"There's only a few situations where I'll be in space," he said. "It's not like I'd be in one-on-one man coverage with somebody all the time."

He's not too big to be dropping into coverage?

"This league is about bigger, faster, stronger," he said.

Coples looked remarkably relaxed while discussing his new role, the latest evidence that he is now fully adjusted to the pro game. Last year, he was a low-key presence in a locker room dominated by big personalities such as Bart Scott, Antonio Cromartie and, of course, polarizing quarterback Tim Tebow. But he seems far more outgoing this year, saying that the change reflects a growing comfort level with his new role.

"Last year, you [reporters] didn't know me," he said. "Y'all wanted no parts of me."

This year? "I'll be here for you," he said.

And if the transformation from understated presence to big-talking pass rusher is a success, then Coples will be making plenty of news this season. Especially if the Jets' retooled defense can somehow find a way to cope with the loss of Darrelle Revis and other key players who were either released or not re-signed because of severe salary-cap problems.

No edge rusher in the draft? No worries.

"Once they drafted a D-lineman and it's a D-tackle," Coples said of No. 1 pick Sheldon Richardson, "I was gearing up to play outside linebacker. So yeah, I think it's worked out for us."