Quarterback option

Jeremaine Copeland made the move from quarterback to receiver while playing for the University of...

Jeremaine Copeland made the move from quarterback to receiver while playing for the University of Tennessee. (Calgary Sun File Photo)

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

Jeremaine Copeland wasn't always on the receiving end of accolades for his pass-catching prowess.

The Calgary Stampeders' pricey free-agent acquisition was recruited by the University of Tennessee as an all-state high school QB, only to find himself stuck behind another youngster with vivid NFL dreams and the arm to deliver him there -- Peyton Manning.

As Manning's backup in 1995, Copeland wisely realized his football future would be found at another position, although still with the ball tucked securely in hand.

"It's not easy to get a whole lot of reps at quarterback when you've got Peyton Manning in front of you," suggests Copeland, who arrived in Calgary yesterday to begin final preparations for training camp beginning May 28.

"That's what I had been ever since I was five years old -- a quarterback."

Spending four seasons with the Volunteers (1995-98), but only two as a full-time receiver, Copeland posted 131 catches for 1,300 yards.

It was his association with Manning and subsequent transformation from pivot to receiver that launched his pro football career.

"My junior year, the coaches didn't want me sitting on the bench anymore. They really wanted to get me on the field somehow," recalls Copeland, 28, who had already proven himself in Tennessee as a dangerous punt returner.

"I said, 'Why don't we try wide-out and see what happens?' We went into it for the first game and, by the second game, I was starting. I'd never played receiver. I just started my junior year in college because Peyton stayed for his senior year. When he announced he was staying for his senior year, I knew I had to do something else."

Although the sudden career change could have caused a rift, just the opposite occurred.

Copeland and Manning had already spent countless hours together as quarterbacks, studying film and now they were on the same page in an impressive pass-and-catch routine, with the newly minted receiver already understanding each play from a quarterback's perspective.

Although Manning left for the Indianapolis Colts after the 1997 season, Copeland and QB Tee Martin (now with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers) led the Vols to the national title in 1998.

"Peyton helped me out a lot because me and him studied together," says Copeland. "Me knowing where I was supposed to be on routes and things like that, reading the coverage from a wide receiver's standpoint, that helps the quarterback out a lot more. That's what I still do. I study more than your average receiver does.

"You have to be able to catch the rock and love to make plays.

"I have fun doing it and studying is a big part of it.

"If you know where you're supposed to be when the quarterback releases the ball, then eight times out of 10 you're going to have a completion, as long as the ball is thrown where you can catch it."

Copeland spent the last four seasons with the powerhouse Montreal Alouettes, winning the Grey Cup in 2002 while earning praise as one of the CFL's most feared receivers. Posting 84 catches for 1,174 yards and 10 touchdowns last season following a sensational 2003 campaign in which he led the CFL with 99 grabs for 1,757 yards and 14 touchdowns, Copeland is a crucial component in the Stampeders' rebuilt offence in 2005, teaming with recently acquired free-agent quarterback Henry Burris.

Although an imposing 6 ft. 2 in. and 202 lb., Copeland's lack of game-breaking speed cost him a serious shot at an NFL career.

Despite receiving NFL free- agent tryouts, the stopwatch always insisted he was a tick or two shy of sticking in the big-time.

Copeland was even briefly reunited with Manning in Indianapolis but claims he never got a shot to prove himself.

"That's what it is -- one tick -- that's all it comes down to," says Copeland, who led the XFL with 72 catches in 2001 with Los Angeles after which he signed as a free agent with the NFL's Dallas Cowboys in 2002, only to return to Montreal.

"I had all the goods to play down there, all the teams said that, it's just that they were looking for a guy who is more of a 4.3 guy or low 4.4's and that's just not me.

"I've never been that fast.

"I think football's a game of playmakers, not speed.

"If you're looking for speed, you need to go out on the track. The game's dominated by people who can make plays and if you can do that, you can play anywhere."


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