Entering his fourth year in the NFL, Leonard Williams is ready to take the next step both on the field and in the locker room.
Undoubtedly New York’s most talented defensive lineman, Williams is now the anchor of the Jets’ defensive line following the departures of Sheldon Richardson, Damon Harrison and Muhammad Wilkerson in recent years. Now the longest-tenured defensive lineman on the team, Williams feels that it is his turn to step into the leadership role that his predecessors once held.
“I never really felt like it was never my time to try to do something, but I always had guys like Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson ahead of me,” Williams told reporters following Tuesday’s OTA. “At the same time, I respected those guys and they were the leaders of the room. When they said something, I’d follow.”
Last season, with Wilkerson neglecting his leadership duties, Williams got a small taste of what it was like to lead in a defensive line room filled with young, inexperienced players.
“It’s the same way if me and [Steve McLendon] said something in the room, the younger guys would follow,” Williams said. “It’s a little different vibe. I’m not going to say I’m more ready now than I was before in terms of wanting to be ready, but I feel more comfortable.”
Dating back to his days at USC where he was the face of the program, Williams has never been a vocal leader, but more of a lead by example type of player. Williams has changed his approach a bit this offseason, but will not go overboard when it comes to bringing increased energy to team facilities on a daily basis.
“On game day I’m definitely out there jumping around with a lot of energy,” Williams said. “But on a day-to-day basis in practice, meetings and workouts, I definitely step up and say stuff when I need to, like when we have low energy. Little things like that. I’m more comfortable and I step up and say something when I have to. I think guys definitely have the respect for me to listen.”
Given the talent that used to reside on New York’s defensive line, Williams being thrust into a leadership role in only his fourth year with the team was an accelerated process. As he gets acclimated to his new role, Williams will need to ensure that his fellow defensive linemen hold up their end of the bargain in 2018.
Other than the aforementioned McLendon, New York’s defensive line features inexperienced players who will be taking on expanded roles for the first time in their young NFL careers. As a player who entered the league as a rotational lineman due to a crowded depth chart, Williams’ leadership will be key when it comes to the development of the men beside him in the trenches.
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