Leonard Williams’ progress bright spot in Jets’ dismal year
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Leonard Williams spent some uncomfortable days in the film room at Southern California — even after he had some huge performances.
Ed Orgeron, the Trojans’ defensive line coach at the time, would usually gloss over all of the sacks and tackles for loss. Instead, he would get on Williams for some of the few mistakes he made.
“In the beginning, it was kind of hard for me to think that way, like, ‘Why is he only pointing out the bad plays?’” Williams recalled Friday. “But then I realized it’s only because he wants me to play the best that I can. If he’s just going to keep praising me, I’m just going to stay average or just decent. If I keep working on what I can get better at, I’m just going to keep growing.”
That approach by Orgeron, hired last week as LSU’s head coach after serving as the interim, helped shape Williams into becoming a playmaker on Todd Bowles’ defense with the New York Jets.
Williams leads the team with six sacks, 22 quarterback hits and two forced fumbles. His eight tackles for loss are tied with Muhammad Wilkerson for second, behind Sheldon Richardson’s 10.
“He’s gotten a lot better and he can get so much better,” Bowles said. “He’s making a lot of progress. He doesn’t have a ceiling, but he doesn’t have a basement, either. Right now, he’s steadily ascending.”
That’s high praise for Williams, especially because Bowles — a bit like Orgeron — doesn’t routinely toss out kudos to his players.
“I mean, that sounds great having someone like coach Bowles who’s the head coach of this program to have that much belief in me and I know that I’m still a young player and I have a lot to grow, still,” Williams said. “I’m definitely a player that’s going to critique myself hardest.”
So, even after his 2 1/2-sack game in the season opener against Cincinnati, Williams was poring through the film to figure out how he could’ve gotten more.
“I’m going to see what I did bad and see my flaws and I’m going to try to correct those,” he said. “I’m not going to point out my good plays, I’m going to point out my bad plays. I feel like that’s one thing that’s going to keep me progressing in this league.”
Just as Orgeron ingrained in him.
Williams has been one of the few bright spots in the Jets’ dismal 3-8 season, building on a solid if unspectacular rookie year in which he had three sacks after being the No. 6 overall draft pick out of Southern California.
“It’s just natural progression,” Bowles said. “As a rookie, you learn so much more after 16 games and coming back the next year, so mentally we expected him to be a little better than he was last year.”
Williams attributes his improvement to an increased comfort in knowing what he needs to do whenever he steps on the field, as opposed to needing to think first and then react — which is common with most rookies.
“I think I’ve definitely progressed as a player with sacks and TFLs and stuff like that,” Williams said. “I know that’s one thing I harped on coming out of last season, my rookie year, was getting more sacks and TFLs and the stats that people like to see.
“With that comfortability level that I have now, it’s been able to let me go out there and play the way I want to play.”
Williams has been facing more double-teams from opponents lately, which has led in part to him not getting any sacks in the last four games.
“This guy,” defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers said, “is still not even tapping where he can be, in my opinion.”
Williams could be in for a good night — on the field and in the film room — on Monday night when the Jets take on the Indianapolis Colts, who are second in the NFL with 38 sacks allowed. Only Cleveland, with 45, has allowed more.
Andrew Luck, who has been sacked an NFL-high 35 times, is expected back at quarterback for the Colts after missing last week with a concussion.
“They say the O-line has been struggling, but mostly what I see is that the majority of the sacks are just from the defense executing blitzes and pressures and stuff like that,” Williams said. “One thing I’ve noticed with Luck is that he’s not afraid to hold the ball and try to break some tackles in the pocket, and I feel that’s one of the reasons the sacks have been coming up.”
NOTES: WR Brandon Marshall (foot, knee), WR Jalin Marshall (concussion), LB Lorenzo Mauldin (ankle), DT Steve McLendon (hamstring), S Calvin Pryor (concussion) and WR Devin Smith (illness) all sat out practice. LB Bruce Carter (quadriceps), RT Breno Giacomini (back, shoulder), CB Nick Marshall (ankle) and CB Marcus Williams (ankle) were limited. ... C Nick Mangold, who has missed four games with a sprained ankle, fully practiced for the second straight day and might play Monday night.
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