BGA Nano – Quinton Coples: Rush Linebacker?

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Following Thursday’s selection of Defensive Tackle Sheldon Richardson in the first round, I thought it would be useful to briefly re-visit something I’ve discussed before several times in BGA; the use of Quinton Coples as a Rush Linebacker.

The first thing to note is that, despite the name of the position, a Rush Linebacker will often play with his hand in the dirt. As the name suggests, he would primarily rush the quarterback and even when he did drop into coverage, it would usually merely require a drop-off into a zone or passing lane, not man-to-man coverage techniques. If the Rush Linebacker puts his hand on the ground, this effectively creates a four-man front, although everybody else’s role doesn’t usually change. Therefore, the player in that role can usually line up however he feels comfortable.

Should Coples start to contribute in this role, that means fewer reps are available for outside linebackers, therefore suggesting that the outside linebacker position was perhaps less of a need than first thought. Moving Coples to the outside would, however, make it necessary to add depth on the interior, which could be part of the reasoning behind the Richardson pick.

Towards the end of last year, the Jets started to experiment with Coples in that role. He even played 27 snaps standing up and – while the majority of these came in “Amoeba” style formations where linemen were milling around pre-snap on a passing down, there were some where he was employed as a conventional weakside outside linebacker.

Just as an indication of what he is capable of – and perhaps the sort of thing the Jets see in Coples that may have made them feel comfortable enough about his versatility to make the Richardson move, let’s look at an example.

As you can see, Coples is lined up as an outside linebacker on the weakside. The Jets aren’t actually in a base defense here, as the Titans have gone three wide, so the Jets countered by replacing the other outside linebacker with a slot corner. However, the front seven roles are otherwise pretty much the same as they would be in the base defense (which the Jets are in less than 50% of the time anyway). Now that they have other defensive tackle options for the 2013 season, they could employ Muhammed Wilkerson as the defensive end on the left side here, instead of Calvin Pace. Coples would also have the option to put his hand in the dirt on this play, but on this occasion he remains standing. He is matched up with Michael Roos – who ranked 3rd among NFL tackles for pass protection on PFF, so is no slouch. See how he got on (in homemade GIF format) after the jump.

As you can see, Coples makes a good pass rushing move to beat a very good pass blocker and hit the quarterback. This was not the only time he did that out of a standing position – on another play against the Chargers he lined up in a similar position and ended up hitting Phil Rivers (although he was called for roughing the passer). He also had a couple of pressures and a tackle for a loss while standing up in the Amoeba formation. In just a small sample size, he did show an ability to give offensive linemen problems from a standing position, making the most of the combination of element of surprise and the additional burst he can get from a standing position.

I’m not suggesting this will become Coples’ primary role, but I wanted to outline what looks like a promising option the Jets might have. Hopefully, drafting Richardson gives them the added flexibility to toy around with this option and others like it.