Jets have bright spot in emerging leader Leonard Williams
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Leonard Williams’ teammates chanted for the young defensive lineman to deliver a speech after being voted the New York Jets’ team MVP.
Williams accepted the slick-looking, glass award from coach Todd Bowles and kept it short and sweet .
“I was just like, ‘I can’t be too jolly up there because the season hasn’t been too great,’” Williams said Friday. “It feels good to accomplish personal goals, but this is a team sport and it takes everybody in this locker room to accomplish a team goal.”
At 4-11, the season has been marked by ugly losses, injuries to key players and nagging questions about the future of the franchise.
Williams is a clear bright spot.
At 22 years and 192 days old, Williams is the youngest player to win the award, named after Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin, in franchise history. That speaks to the level Williams, the No. 6 overall pick in 2015, has played — and the respect he has earned from those with whom he shares the Jets’ locker room.
“It feels good to be MVP whenever, but at the same time, you want your team to be doing well,” Williams said. “Basically, I just want to encourage everybody else to give it their all every game. We’ve got one more game left and we still have a chance for guys to prove themselves.”
Heading into New York’s finale against Buffalo, Williams has a team-leading seven sacks and 24 quarterback hits. He ranks second with 84 tackles and 11 tackles for loss, and is also tied for the lead with two forced fumbles.
“I voted for him,” safety Rontez Miles said. “Just carrying over from last year to this year, in this league, I think the biggest thing you have to be week in and week out is consistent, and he consistently shows up every week, every game. It’s hard to do that.
“You have guys that are superstars that might have off games here and there throughout the season, but for the most part, he’s consistently there, he shows up, he’s making plays, his name is being called, and everybody notices that.”
Williams spoke in the locker room about seeing lots more he needs to work on, and is far from satisfied with his accomplishments so far. Just as he was saying that, a teammate shouted: “We love you, Leo!”
Williams smiled, but continued to talk about how he is driven to be even better next season. He’s a first alternate for the Pro Bowl and has a good shot to play this year. Next year, though, he could remove any doubt with an even bigger performance for the Jets.
“I definitely have high expectations for myself all the time,” he said. “That’s the reason why I say I’m the toughest grader on myself. Watching film, I’m always like, ‘Oh, I could’ve made that play.’ I always feel like I can make more. I don’t feel like I’m ever going to feel like I exceeded my goals because I always hold myself to high expectations.”
Two full seasons into his NFL career, Williams intends to be an even greater presence as a leader. For a team that appears to be lacking a bit in that category, that will be a welcome addition to the Jets’ locker room.
“I’ve seen a young guy grow,” nose tackle Deon Simon said. “We came in together and he kind of grew into being one of my best friends. I’ve seen a guy come in, play his heart out, work every day and give it his all and he’s played through nicks. He’s just a young guy who’s going to be playing for a long time.”
Williams acknowledges that he’s not necessarily a “super-vocal guy,” but he knows he now carries respect from his fellow players.
“When things have to be said,” Williams added, “I’m definitely going to say something.”
Several of the perceived leaders on the team face uncertain futures with the franchise, with Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold and Brandon Marshall among a handful of players who could be salary cap casualties this offseason. That will make it even more vital for Williams to be a guy the young players — and veterans — can look to for guidance next season.
“It’s easy to follow somebody’s lead when they play their (butt) off like that,” Miles said of Williams. It’s like, if somebody’s going to preach something, you have to preach it not only verbally but also with your actions. Your actions have to show it, too. ... I don’t think that’ll be a big task for him being one of our leaders because he does everything right.”
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