Quinton Coples hears and reads the cheap shots, insults and (sometimes) constructive criticism without losing sight of what matters most in his life. He is a physical force, a large human, but his goals stretch far beyond the confines of the game he was blessed to play.
“I want to be great,” Coples told the Daily News in a quiet moment. “I want to be mentioned as one of the greats. I want to have a positive legacy. I want people to be inspired by me. I want to be a positive role model and my legacy to live through somebody else that saw me or liked what I did. If I make it to the Hall of Fame or if I get all those accolades that you get with this game, that’s great. But it’s not like, at the end, if I don’t get that, I’ll go crazy. I don’t look at it like that.”
In many ways, Coples is a gentle giant, a 6-6, 270-pound physical anomaly that wasn’t designed to kill. Some suggest that he should play with a nastier streak on Sundays, inject a little crazy into his game, but he says he isn’t wired that way.
“People look at us as gladiators (like) we are all crazy and we just go out there and fight and beat up on each other,” Coples said. “Take the helmet off and be who you are. Whether I’m playing football or if you catch me out on the streets or at lunch at a diner or a coffee shop, I am who I am. I ain’t gonna change because I play in the NFL. I don’t change for nobody . . . or nothing.”
He is a man of faith who believes the Bible can navigate you through most of life’s obstacles. His professional challenges after the Jets took him with the 16th pick of the 2012 draft emboldened him when he could have easily crumbled.
The criticism grew louder last year as he struggled to transition from defensive end to outside linebacker. A hairline fracture in his ankle in the preseason slowed his development, prompting questions about whether he’d ever live up to his first-round status that he shares with teammates Mo Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson.
When the noise around Coples became deafening, his mind-set was simple: Stay the course.
After making a living in college and his rookie season with his hand in the dirt, blazing full speed ahead, Coples needed to embrace a new set of responsibilities. Rex Ryan wanted him to stand up on the edge and learn to drop into coverage. Coples finished with only 4 1/2 sacks in 14 games, but there were flashes that he wanted to cultivate. He transformed his body by losing 20 pounds in the offseason on a strict diet to better fit his new, versatile role.
Coples, once believed to be on a path to mediocrity, has been a difference maker through the first three weeks.
“Yeah, you want 15 sacks from a guy who’s actually working in reverse half the time,” Ryan said of the misguided criticism last year. “But this kid’s playing his butt off right now. It takes a little time for some of these guys who converted. Now he’s very confident with what he’s doing. When you talk about Sheldon Richardson or you talk about Muhammad Wilkerson, all those real good players we have, well, you got to put Coples in there, too.”
Coples ranked third among 3-4 outside linebackers in Pass Rush Productivity, a Pro Football Focus formula that combines sacks, quarterback hits and hurries relative to the number of times a player rushes the passer.