FLORHAM PARK, N.J – There was pressure felt by Leonard Williams about three weeks ago when he learned that his fellow defensive lineman on the New York Jets, Sheldon Richardson, might face a lengthy suspension following a recent incident with the police. But Williams, the team's first round pick, just set about to do some work and let the pressure work itself out.
And now he is primed for an ever-growing role for what could be the franchise's best defensive line since the 'New York Sack Exchange.'
Williams fell to the Jets at the sixth pick, arguably the best player in the draft who was supposed to be gone well before the Jets hit the clock. He wasn't necessarily a position of need for this Jets team given the aforementioned Richardson and with Pro Bowler Muhammad Wilkerson already on the depth chart, but he was just too talented to pass up. There was always going to be a way to get him on the field, Williams is just that good, but he wasn't necessarily locked in to be a starter.
Now with Richardson suspended for the season's first four games – and maybe longer – and Wilkerson set to miss a second straight preseason game with a hamstring injury, Williams role is growing day-by-day. He will get another start Friday night in the Jets second preseason game at home against the Atlanta Falcons.
“I think there was a lot more pressure when I first heard about it, when I first started running with the one's. But my confidence has been building, the more I've been out there and now going through preseason, getting respect from my coaches and teammates, it's been growing,” Williams told Metro this week.
“Originally when I first reported to camp, I was already anticipating getting to compete and try to earn a spot as soon as possible, earn a spot. Now that I'm out there for certain for the first few games at least, I try to just work and do the best I can. My teammates are helping and the coaches have been great showing that they believe in me.”
Besides being a freak athlete, Williams has some vague familiarity with this defense. The Jets run a 3-4 style much like what he played at USC. But the similarities end there.
At USC, even as an end, he had to play two-gap where he was responsible for the B-Gap as well as the edge. Here with the Jets, he has only one assignment and that is more or less to get into the backfield. He admits that “I thought there was going to be a lot of similarities but I was wrong.”
“I think it does make it simpler but at the same time, I was playing two-gap for two years so sometimes, that it is a hard habit to break,” Williams said.
“So I'm always thinking about that, always working on that since it is what I'm used to.”