The recent signing of Jason Babin by the New York Jets was rightfully seen as the addition of a pass rush specialist to replace Antwan Barnes, who remains on the PUP list as he tries to recover from a torn ACL suffered last season. However, it now looks as if Babin could be in for an even bigger role, as there has been some discussion of him replacing third year linebacker Quinton Coples in the starting lineup.
Babin played twice as many snaps as Coples in the Jets’ win over the Cincinnati Bengals, though he only recorded one tackle. Coples himself only had one tackle, and he was also credited with half a sack, even though Garrett McIntyre did the hard part. Against the Indianapolis Colts in the first preseason game, Coples had three tackles, including one for a loss, while Babin again managed only one tackle.
Despite Coples being the better player thus far in the preseason, Rex Ryan stated after the Bengals game that Babin’s increased playing time was “definitely a sign of things to come”. What exactly Ryan meant by that statement remains to be seen, but it certainly appears like replacing Coples with Babin is within the coaching staff’s thought process. Despite Coples not yet living up to his status as a first round pick, removing him from the starting lineup would be a mistake.
First of all, Coples is still making the adjustment to outside linebacker, as this is only his second season playing the position. It would not be fair to expect him to master all the details immediately, and the preseason is supposed to be used for working out the kinks. Coples has not exactly dazzled by recording 5.5 and 4.5 sacks in his first two pro seasons, but it’s not like he’s a bust either. Coples did get 3.5 sacks over the final five games last season, showing that he was starting to feel comfortable at his new position.
At 34, Babin is no longer the pass rush terror that recorded 12.5 sacks in 2010 and 18 sacks in 2011. However, he did have 7.5 sacks for the Jacksonville Jaguars last season, and he remains an effective situational rusher. That being said, Babin is not a three down player, and his shortcomings against the run are a major concern. Say what you will about Coples’ pass rushing skills, but there is no denying that he is a very strong run defender. Babin is much weaker in that area, and playing him in the base defense could cause some problems for the Jets’ run defense.
One other key consideration is where the Jets are in their rebuild. This remains a young team that is a year or two away from real contention, and Coples has the potential to be a big part of their future. Even if Babin has a good season, the reality is that he is no more than a hired gun for a year or two. Discarding the opportunity to develop Coples in favor of a player like Babin, who is solid but not special, would be a mistake.
Most likely, these comments from Ryan are mostly a motivational ploy directed at Coples. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as it doesn’t go any further. With his run stopping skills and potential as a pass rusher, Coples must remain a significant part of the defense. Babin should play a big role as a pass rush specialist, but starting him ahead of Coples would not be the right decision for the Jets.