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Returning Player Refresher: Marquise Copeland

Marquise Copeland is the best defensive lineman on the roster. How much he improves from a solid 2017 will have a major effect on how the whole defense plays in 2018.

NCAA Football: Marshall at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

It has been a steady ascension from green freshman to senior leader for Marquise Copeland. As a three-star recruit and a top 35 weak-side defensive end for the 2015 recruiting class of the Cincinnati Bearcats, Copeland was always going to get plenty of opportunity to play, but its what he has done with that opportunity that has been impressive to watch.

As a freshman in 2015, he only accumulated 15 total tackles, including just one for a loss. Of course, that came over the course of a very limited playing schedule. He only saw action in eight games and its not as if he was starting even when he did get on the field. His real chance to prove himself came a year later when he showed a ton of promise, finishing the year with 59 tackles, including 4.5 for loss and his first career sack.

While those first two years were nice building blocks, last year is when Copeland officially staked his claim to the role of best defensive lineman on the roster. With a team-high 3.5 sacks (admittedly low, but that is more of a team-wide issue), Copeland was the standout pass rusher on the roster. He had eight tackles for loss altogether, which was the second-most on the team, while ranking fourth on the team in total tackles (63). That last mark really stands out, showing that Copeland was constantly seeking out ball carriers from his post on the line and not just letting the play go on without him once the ball passed the line of scrimmage.

Copeland made a particularly strong impression in his efforts against Miami-Ohio and Temple. In the Battle for the Victory Bell, the 6’3”, 290-pound defensive end from Cleveland disrupted the RedHawks to the tune of seven total tackles, including three for loss and a sack. It marked one of five games on the season in which he had at least seven stops. One of the others was against Temple, a team he shredded with 2.0 tackles for loss including a sack. He closed the season on a high note as well, racking up a career-high 10 tackles, including a half sack, against UConn in the season finale.

With guys like Houston’s Ed Oliver and Temple’s Sharif Finch in the fold during 2017, Copeland was unable to carve out a spot for himself on the All-American Athletic Conference team, but he still captured the league’s attention and was an honorable mention. Entering 2018, he should challenge for more than that, especially if he continues on the upward trajectory he has set for himself in his first three years.