A lot of people ask New York Jets outside linebacker Brandon Copeland what he did differently entering his sixth season in the NFL to get on the field, and the answer was not much.
The Sykesville, Md., native and Gilman School graduate didn't made any alterations in his training. He didn't have any crazy new workout routine or make any dramatic changes to his diet.
There was only one difference between his time with the Jets and previous stints with other teams: opportunity.
"Finally ... I got my chance," Copeland said on
Glenn Clark Radio
June 27. "I won [my spot], got the chance to play, never looked back and don't plan on looking back."
After rifling through three teams in five years, Copeland had a breakout season in 2018 with the Jets and played a large part in the team's linebacker corps. He appeared in all 16 games, 10 of which were in a starting role, while recording 35 combined tackles and racking up five sacks.
"It all comes down to opportunity," Copeland said. "I just got the chance to play and showcase my ability."
Copeland, 28, was a star while playing for the Greyhounds in high school. In addition to being a four-year honor roll student and 2008 Academic All-State selection, he was the 2008 National Football Foundation Scholar Athlete of the Year, played in the Army All-American game and earned All-Baltimore City honors.
He then signed with the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a three-time Ivy League champion and was a three-time first-team All-Ivy League player. He finished his career with 160 tackles, 26.5 of which were for a loss, and 11 sacks.
After signing with the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2013, he was waived by the team later in the year. He finished the 2013 season on the Tennessee Titans' practice squad, but he spent much of the 2014 season out of the league.
Copeland signed with the Detroit Lions in 2015 after participating in the NFL Veteran Combine and spent most of his time on special teams. But outside of that, Copeland had difficulty earning a spot on defense given the players ahead of him on the depth chart.
"It was an awesome opportunity to get my feet wet as an active on Sunday, but I was sitting behind guys and sometimes it wasn't necessarily because of my play," Copeland said. "It was because of the politics."
Copeland said he's come to realize that outside of the big stars of the league -- players like former Ravens Ed Reed and Ray Lewis -- there is just a marginal difference in talent when comparing one player to the next. Most of the time, it comes down to the coaches having "their guys" and wanting to get something out of their investment.
"Those players played well at times, and I've learned a lot from those players," Copeland said. "But you learn that this is also a business and there's a major investment that's been made in those players as opposed to me, an undrafted guy out of Penn, where you want to see those guys play and perform."
That wasn't the case with the Jets. The team was in a rebuilding phase after finishing 5-11 and fourth in the AFC East in 2017, and there was no big-name player in front of Copeland to dominate playing time.
"There was no, as I call it, money in front of me or in my way, so to speak," Copeland said. "It was really an open competition, and may the best man win."
There is still plenty of room to grow on the Jets' defense. The team finished 4-12 in 2018 while the defense closed out the season ranked 25th overall.
That could change with former Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley signing a five-year, $85 million deal to play for the Jets. Copeland isn't worried about playing with a premium player getting paid big dollars, though. He's happy for Mosley and excited for what the fellow linebacker will bring to the team.
"I'm ecstatic for playing alongside a guy like that, knowing you can be confident in the person next to you" Copeland said. "He's proven himself over his entire career."
For more from Copeland, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtes of the New York Jets