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February 14, 2012

Coples staying humble as Draft approaches

Former North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples has a little over two months before he'll become a wealthy man and a key contributor to a franchise in the National Football League.

As he readies for April 26th's NFL Draft---a night in which he'll almost certainly be an early first round selection---Coples is letting everyone else do the talking about where he'll get taken.

"I haven't been paying attention to that (where I'll get selected) at all," Coples said in a recent interview. "I let everybody else talk about it and (let my agent) handle it. I just go out and give my best effort and compete."

For those who covered Coples for four seasons at UNC, it's no surprise that the big defender is being reserved about his potential draft standing.

He was never one to talk too highly of himself, never one to give too much away in interviews during his time in Chapel Hill.

Perhaps his humble childhood roots in Kinston (N.C.) taught Coples to hold back a little.

Or perhaps he's just one of those shy people in the world when a tape recorder or camera is in his face.

Either way, don't expect Coples to tell you which franchise---or at what point in the draft---he expects to go between now and late April.

"(I've gotten) great feedback. Everybody just wants to know so far my general background, how I was raised and things of that nature," Coples said.

When asked when franchises had shown the most interest, Coples said, 'All of them.'

"Everybody comes here and there," he said.

Unlike a substantial majority of Draft-eligible prospects around the country who are training relentlessly every day with no guarantee they'll find a home in the NFL next season, Coples is in a totally different position.

He's in that rarified air of elite prospects who can talk with pro franchises knowing full-well that almost all of them would love to have him.

Every NFL franchise knows about Coples. Every NFL franchise likely has an extensive file and/or database on Coples.

After all, who wouldn't like to have a player who is versatile enough to play in the 3-4 or 4-3 scheme, and who has shown effective pass rush and run pursuit skill throughout his collegiate career at both defensive end and defensive tackle?

"I feel like I'll bring versatility (to an NFL team), and just that I can help any team get to the Super Bowl," he said.

Indeed, it's not a matter of if Coples will be playing in 'The League' next year.

It's a matter of where he'll be playing, and for how much.

In the fall, ESPN Draft guru Mel Kiper wrote that if it weren't for Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, Coples could possibly be the very first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, and that he may fall no lower than No. 2.

Interestingly enough, the No. 2 selection this year goes to the St. Louis Rams, who just a year ago took another former Tar Heel defensive end, Robert Quinn, with their first round pick.

In a recent conversation, Quinn gave Coples some insight on the type of psyche that pro defensive linemen tend to acquire.

"I just talked to 'Rob' a few days ago," Coples said at the Senior Bowl in late January.

"He (Quinn) is just always, 'I have to kill everybody. I have the beast in me.' And that's the defensive line mentality that we have. It's never like, 'Go out and have a good day.' It's just, 'Go out and destroy everybody.'"

The Rams have Quinn and Chris Long---a pair of potential future All-Pros---at their respective defensive end posts, so Coples may not be a natural fit for that franchise at No. 2 this year given its many other positional needs.

But rest assured, there's plenty of other franchises around the NFL that would be thrilled if Coples fell to them later in the first round.

How about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, sitting at No. 5?

New Bucs head coach Greg Schiano got an up close and personal look at Coples running roughshod over his Rutgers offensive linemen for three seasons, and now Schiano has a guy pretty close to Coples---former UNC head coach Butch Davis---working for him as a personnel advisor.

Coples wouldn't have any problem reuniting with Coach Davis in Tampa if that's the way the chips fell.

"Starting with Coach Davis and Coach (John) Blake, the whole coaching staff (at UNC) did a great job with recruiting," Coples said. "After that, people started to see that we could actually compete, developing winning seasons and things of that nature."

"I think it's been a great opportunity (playing under Davis)," Coples continued. "I've learned a lot from each and every one of the great defensive linemen that came before me, and I'm appreciative of everything they (the UNC coaches and players) did for me."

If not Tampa Bay, how about the Dallas Cowboys at No. 14?

The Cowboys have Brian Baker on staff, and it's no secret that Baker is particularly high on Coples and his pro potential.

During his brief tenure as UNC's defensive line coach, Baker told insiders around Chapel Hill that if Coples had been playing on the Carolina Panthers in 2010 after the departure of Julius Peppers, he would have been the best defensive lineman on the team as a college junior.

Dallas would jump at the chance to take Coples at No. 14, but they almost certainly won't get that chance.

Depending on how things go for Coples over the next ten weeks, the Buccaneers may not even have a chance to land him at No. 5.

The Minnesota Vikings, who pick third, and the Cleveland Browns, who are going fourth, both have needs along the defensive line, and either team could be the right fit for Coples if the Rams decide not to take another defensive end this year.

The Vikings have run a 4-3 during the Jared Allen era, but Allen doesn't want to play in a 3-4 defense, as current head coach Leslie Frazier has suggested might happen prior to the 2012 season.

The Vikings could be forced to take Coples out of necessity if Allen did happen to leave Minnesota in the coming weeks, but at the same time an Allen-Coples combination at defensive end could be big-time for the Vikings in the coming years.

The Browns play in a 4-3 scheme under second-year coordinator Dick Jauron, and they're in desperate need of a talented defensive lineman like Coples. Cleveland would be hard-pressed to find anyone in this draft with that No. 4 selection who could be any more valuable to them right away than Coples.

For his part, Coples doesn't concern himself with the schemes the various franchises run.

Although he played in a 4-3 throughout his tenure in Chapel Hill, Coples showed remarkable flexibility when he shifted inside to defensive tackle prior to the 2010 season after the suspension and eventual dismissal of Marvin Austin.

NFL teams have plenty of film from the 2010 season to see how Coples could potentially thrive as a long, athletic nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme or as an interior 'three technique' in a 4-3 scheme.

And, of course, Coples has shown he can also be a prototypical pass rushing end in a 4-3 scheme.

"I don't have a preference. I'm probably best in a 4-3 because I've practiced it most throughout my collegiate career, but overall I'm prepared and ready to play either scheme," he said.

Coples seems to have only improved his stock at the Senior Bowl practices, where he competed with several talented offensive lineman and more than held his own.

"It was great. It was fun. It was a great to compete," Coples said about the Senior Bowl. "It's a different experience, but overall it was definitely a good experience. I appreciate everything that's happened so far."

Given the fact that he's a likely upper-first round projection, Coples will almost certainly make his way to New York City's Radio City Music Hall for Draft Night.

But in typical Coples fashion, don't expect him to tell you too much about how he plans to spend that life-changing night.

"I don't know (about how I'll spend Draft night). Hopefully I will just get drafted," he said.

Coples did tell us that he has a plan for how to spend his first paycheck as an NFL player.

"I'll probably buy an apartment somewhere to stay at in that city (with my first check)," he said.

Coples, who weighed and measured in at 6-5 3/4 and 281 pounds at the Senior Bowl, was named first-team All-ACC in each of his final two seasons at UNC---as a defensive tackle in 2010, and as a defensive end in 2011.

The 2011 season was a train wreck down the stretch on multiple levels for the Tar Heels, but Coples says the players who survived the scrutiny of the NCAA investigation and the preseason coaching switch gave everything they could to have a good season.

"I didn't get frustrated (during the season)," he said. "We dealt with some adversity and we had some situations that were unfortunate for us. We had a lot of young guys, and it was kind of a juggle with them and a new coaching staff."

UNC's debacle in the Independence Bowl against Missouri made a lot of people wonder why the Tar Heels even made the trek to Shreveport at all, but it was Carolina's fourth bowl game in four seasons, which hadn't been done since the late 1990s at UNC.

Coples is hopeful that will be his legacy at UNC as opposed to all the negative things.

"I think we had a successful season. We definitely didn't win as many games as we wanted to. But I think we competed at a high level and had a very productive season," Coples said.


NOTE: Warchant.com reporter Paul Thomas provided quotes for this feature.


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