Jets’ ‘Big Cat’ Williams hungry for better second NFL season
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Leonard Williams was unimpressed by his production last year, no matter how many people told him he had a good rookie season for the New York Jets.
The big defensive lineman showed flashes of what made him the No. 6 overall pick in the draft and the player many regarded as the best all-around talent available. Williams finished with a modest three sacks and a combined 63 tackles while starting 15 games.
Not bad. But not eye-popping, either. Well, the man nicknamed “Big Cat” is hungry for lots more.
“Being at USC and having the production numbers that I had every year, I kind of hold myself to those high standards every year that I play football,” Williams said during minicamp. “I didn’t get as many sacks as I wanted or as many (tackles for loss) as I wanted. A lot of people thought I had a good year, but, to me, I wanted more production out of myself.”
He had 20 sacks in three seasons at Southern California and routinely disrupted offensive game plans with a knack for always being around the ball. That’s the type of presence he wants to be in the NFL, although he has already shown he is up to the task after filling in for the suspended Sheldon Richardson for the first four games of last season.
“I mean, I definitely think it was good, as far as the transition from college to the NFL,” Williams said. “Being a rookie and my first year, I’ve got to get into it, but this year, I feel a lot more comfortable now that I’ve got a year under my belt and I’m just ready to have a better year.”
Williams won’t hold himself to a set number he’s looking for in any statistical category. He simply doesn’t want to sell himself short.
“Oftentimes, you’ll see people try to reach that exact number,” he said, “but if you just want high numbers, you can go past that number a lot of times.”
Defensive line coach Pepper Johnson rarely dishes out effusive praise about his players, but he came pretty close when discussing what he has seen from Williams this offseason.
“He’s physically capable of being one of the better defensive linemen in the league,” said Johnson, who played linebacker for 13 seasons in the NFL and is entering his 17th as an assistant coach.
Johnson has been impressed by how Williams constantly asks questions. The defensive lineman wants to know what his assignments are and why he and the rest of the defense are lining up in certain places on specific plays.
“He learned a lot, and I like what I have,” Johnson said. “He actually matured a lot. I’m not saying he was much of a kid when he came in. He came in with a maturity, a professionalism, but he just has taken it to another level.”
It’s an exciting thought for the Jets, especially with a bit of uncertainty on the defensive line.
Nose tackle Damon Harrison is gone after signing with the Giants as a free agent, replaced by veteran Steve McLendon. Richardson could be facing another league-issued suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy last summer.
Also, Muhammad Wilkerson, who led the Jets with 12 sacks, has yet to sign his franchise tag tender while he seeks a long-term extension. He might have to play under the amount of the tag ($15.7 million) if the sides don’t reach a deal by July 15. Or, the defensive end could opt to hold out of training camp, which starts late next month.
Wilkerson told the New York Post for a story published Thursday he felt unwanted by the team and found it “shocking” and “frustrating” that he still has no deal. Some fans and media have speculated the Jets already found their potential replacement for Wilkerson in Williams.
“That thought doesn’t really come to me at all because I don’t really hear that, ever,” Williams said. “I don’t really pay attention to social media or what people are saying. I’m just showing up to work every day. I know who we have here and I know who we don’t. I can’t really control anything that’s going on upstairs. I do know that I see Mo here, still. He’s still working out and trying to get himself right, and I’m sure that he’ll be here when the time comes.”
At this time a year ago, Williams was simply trying to fit in. This season, he’ll be counted on to make an even bigger impact.
“Now that I have that year under my belt, I just feel very comfortable — comfortable with my teammates, comfortable with the playbook,” Williams said. “I’ve got the same playbook as last year, so it’s easier for me to fly around and know what I’m doing.”