Quinton Coples had thought this was going to be the year. The Jets' 2012 first-round pick assumed this would be the season he'd get to do what he was drafted to do: rush the quarterback.
But that hasn't happened.
Instead, in what could be his final chance to prove himself to the Jets, Coples appears to be an afterthought on a defense that features Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson and now rookie Leonard Williams.
The Jets picked up Coples' option for 2016. But because it's guaranteed only for injury, the team still can cut him at the start of the league year next March without any financial ramifications, unless he gets hurt and misses the entire 2016 season. But his long-term future with the franchise appears even more unclear.
When asked about his role, Coples said, "Whatever is called. I ain't tripping,'' in an interview with Newsday last week. "I don't get caught up with just rushing the QB. If me dropping in coverage is going to help me win games and be successful, I'd rather take that than me rushing the QB, getting a bunch of sacks and losing.''
That's a stark contrast to his comments in August, when he predicted the "sky's the limit'' for his sack production under Bowles.
"I think it's a new opportunity to rush the passer, something I'm passionate about,'' he said in training camp, adding that he envisioned double-digit sacks in 2015. "Ten isn't good enough. Got to keep going, the highest of the highest. Whatever number is possible. Sky is the limit.''
Six games into the season, he has zero sacks and four tackles and has played only 178 of the team's 399 defensive snaps (44.6 percent). Coples played 15 of 64 snaps against the Dolphins in Week 4 and only nine of 63 against the Redskins.
Bowles said the scheme dictated Coples' low snap total against Washington, which coincided with Richardson's return from a four-game suspension.
"We wanted to put the bigger guys up in there and go down front and we knew they wanted to run the ball," Bowles said the day after their win over Washington.
Last week, Coples downplayed his expectations of becoming a primary pass rusher again and noted he's not asked to be in coverage "as much'' as in the previous two seasons, when Rex Ryan moved him from end to outside linebacker after his rookie year.
"It makes the defense a lot more complex when you've got me and Calvin [Pace] dropping,'' Coples said. "It's always a guessing game for the offense because they don't ever know what they're going to do. And that affects the quarterback when he's doing reads or he's trying to check out of stuff. He don't know, so it keeps him on his toes.''
The arrivals of Williams, the sixth overall pick, and rookie outside linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin didn't shake Coples' confidence. Instead, he expressed excitement about adding two talented players to an already stacked defense.
"It's only going to make us better and stronger,'' he said May 12. "I don't see myself losing playing time.''