Quinnen Williams is one of the Jets' young veterans, in his fourth season with the Green & White, only 24 years old (at least for the next two weeks) and an emerging force of nature in the heart of the defensive line.
In Minnesota last Sunday, Williams notched his ninth sack of the season, which is the most of his budding NFL career. And one of the young leaders on a defense that has distinguished itself in the 2022 season, Williams knew it was imperative for him to come into the season in the best shape, mentally and physically, of his pro career.
"This offseason I took it upon myself," Williams told Eric Allen on this week's edition of "The Official Jets Podcast." "I wanted to do better and one of those things was nutrition and endurance. I got a plan down from the conditioning staff, and I'm sticking to it. I feel like I came into camp in the best shape of my career. And I think I did.
"I had these two machines, a ski machine and the rowing machine. Those two things are the fiercest two machines, I was like I am dying on these machines. It was just fun being able to get in shape like I wanted to be. It was hard. Nutrition-wise it's good and healthy, I'm eating more vegetables, different varieties."
At first, it was only his teammates who took notice and said so. Now it's the rest of the league as Williams has gone about his business while building talk of a Pro Bowl, even an All-Pro type of season. He has embraced the challenge of improving on his first three seasons with the Jets, after a stellar career at Alabama, and has grown less reluctant to express himself to his teammates and coaches.
"I just think I'm doing my job, everyone holds me accountable and to a high standard like I hold everyone else to accountability and a high standard," he said. "One of those things is we all speak to each other. C.J. [Mosley] has got 100 tackles [actually 116 through 12 games] and people don't talk about that. And C.J. tells everyone the play call. Without C.J., no one would know what to do. Just like you need brakes on a car, it's a testament to my teammates to help me do my job to do my job to the best of my ability.
"It's knowing you're not alone, not in a single sport like golf or tennis. You need a team. We all need each other to be successful."
Williams acknowledges the impact veterans like Mosley, and his mates on the D-line like Carl Lawson and Vinny Curry have had on him. He also credits Mosley with encouraging him to speak up and speak his mind.
"I do definitely feel like I've earned a voice to speak up," Williams said. "I'm not just a leader, I'm someone who has experience on defense and I feel I came into my own, became a leader in how I speak to people. Having a leader like C.J. Mosley makes it easier, especially when you say something and see him nodding his head. It's someone to back you up and is unbelievable.
"I'm not the only one who believes in humility, teamwork, effort. Another guy, one of best linebackers in the NFL, went the same path [Mosley is also from, and played at Alabama] and learned the same thing and earned the respect of people in this league. Having a leader like that in this organization and team helped me become a leader, he gave me confidence to speak up when I need to speak up."
As the Jets (7-5) contend for a playoff berth in the conference and face a big test on Sunday at Buffalo (9-3) in an AFC East duel, Williams has seen and experienced the transformation of the team under GM Joe Douglas and HC Robert Saleh.
"It's amazing, it's a testament to the organization and the coaching staff who brought in guys from winning cultures, like Kwon Alexander and in D.J. Reed. Drafting guys like Sauce [Gardner], [Garrett] Wilson, Jermaine [Johnson], rookies who have a winning mindset, a winning attitude and winning tradition to spread winning joy and the positivity of winning. It's not just about winning, but doing it the right way. And it's good to have leaders like [Justin] Hardee and C.J., who push everybody every day. Not just talking the talk but walking the walk."
And Coach, "I think he has phenomenal passion. He always has great messages every single day, win or lose. You can feel like it's been going on since last year. It's about getting better each day and honing in on the details."
Williams is the first to admit that he approaches his craft like a sponge. He said that he's in constant contact with two players -- Chris Jones of the Chiefs and Fletcher Cox of the Eagles -- "picking their brains" and seeing them as mentors. The same goes for his teammates, certainly Mosley, but also Lawson and Curry.
"People in camp before he got injured [a torn Achilles tendon in the 2020 preseason] could see Carl was an unbelievable animal," Williams said. "It was unfortunate to see the injury, but he came back on a tear [with 5 sacks, 19 QB hits and 23 tackles so far]. Oh my goodness, to see him start to get sacks, ball out and trust his Achilles is wonderful to see. He always tells us he's so happy to have the appreciation we have for each other in DL room. We all want to see each other succeed.
"Vinny Curry was drafted with Fletch, and we're watching film and he breaks out and says to me you look like Fletch. I watch Fletch so much, trying to recreatethe same move on the same guy, especially if Philly played that team. Vinny always laughs at me, saying you look like Fletch on that move. Vinny's so passionate, super-smart, won a Super Bowl. He knows how it's supposed to look. So experienced. He gives nuggets and wisdom to each and everyone of us young guys in the locker room."
Even though the Jets left Minneapolis last week without a victory in a game they were so close to winning, Williams and his older brother, Quincy, a hard-hitting linebacker, were enthusiastic participants in the NFL's My Cause My Cleats program. The Williams brothers both wore cleats that paid tribute to their mother, who died from breast cancer when the brothers were teenagers.
"I'm an American Cancer Society ambassador and do a lot, with a focus on breast cancer," Quinnen said. "I had one cleat for breast cancer, another for the American Cancer Society. It's an amazing opportunity to put out on a major platform to raise awareness of breast cancer and all cancers. We got to share it with the world through cleats.
"I think she had a lot of traits like Coach [Nick] Saban [of Alabama, who Williams calls the G.O.A.T.]. Super-detail oriented, a teacher for so long, my grandma was also a teacher. They always preached discipline and she always told her boys to give all their effort."
Asked about how she would react if she could see her sons playing on the same team in the NFL, Williams said: "She would be super-excited, but would think we'd be arguing and would tell us to stop arguing. We don't argue. It's the way we criticize, but to others it sounds like an argument. But we're brothers. When he misses a tackle, I'm like 'come on bro, you need to make the tackle.' My mom used to think we were arguing. But it's tough love among brothers. It's cool."