The Jets offered Quincy Williams an opportunity last year as August was about to turn to September. He didn't just take it, he grabbed it in a bear hug, held on and never let go.
"Last year, being a linebacker, you're the leader of the defense," Williams said. "With me, I lead by example, so last year no one knew who I was or what I could do. That's like a random person walking up to you and telling you to do something. You'd be like, 'Who are you?' Now, I have a year under my belt and I'm trying to prestige up. I like that 'Call of Duty' term. Now I feel like I've earned my stripes a little bit, so my word means something."
To say that Williams, the older brother of Jets defensive lineman Quinnen Williams, was a revelation in the 2021 NFL season would be an understatement.
"It was a big step for me during the season," Williams said. "I was cut by Jaguars and didn't know where my path would go. I feel like I came into the opportunity that presented itself."
Drafted in the third round in 2019 out of Murray State, Williams saw limited action with the Jaguars over his two seasons in Jacksonville, hampered by injuries and appearing in 18 games (8 starts). Waived at the end of training camp last year, Williams played in 16 games for the Jets and was second to his running mate C.J. Mosley on the team in tackles (107). His 846 snaps taken were third on the defense behind Bryce Hall (1,126) and Mosley (1,054).
GM Joe Douglas, faced with a glut of injuries at linebacker last summer, was forced to scan the waiver wire. At that point early in the season, HC Robert Saleh was still hoping that two rookies -- Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen -- could quickly adapt to playing linebacker. Both had to deal with injuries.
"We have a linebacker in now and a couple of guys who are getting into the position in their second year," Williams said, referring to himself, and Sherwood and Nasirildeen. "I've transferred from safety to linebacker and we have a couple guys who are doing that, too, so me talking to them is like, 'OK. He's done this before. This is what he's doing now, so I can listen to him.'
"Just taking the initiative to be better on and off the field. With me when I was coming in, I was looking at how to be a pro. They're probably thinking now that they got their first year out of the way, how do I be a pro now? I took away from C.J.'s and my brother's [preparation] schedules and made it my own. I'm hoping that they do the same and take the initiative and get to the same level. Then we all can be on the same level and be the core of this team."
As he prepares for his second season with the Green & White, Williams has evolved into a key player in what is shaping up to be an aggressive defense under coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. The Jets have fortified the defensive line (with the return from injury of Carl Lawson; drafting Jermaine Johnson and Micheal Clemons; re-signing Vinny Curry; and signing in free agency Solomon Thomas and Jacob Martin), the safety position (the return of Lamarcus Joyner from injury and the of signing Jordan Whitehead) and cornerback group (drafting Sauce Gardner and signing D.J. Reed).
"It's a great feeling entering the same team, coaching staff and scheme wise," Williams said. "It's like I already have a step ahead and something to build off of. Last year was different coaches, playbooks and learning everything new. Now it's not learning the actual plays, it's the small details and taking my football IQ to the next level and getting chemistry with my teammates. We can learn how I play, how he plays, so we can be on the same level."
See the Jets on the practice field working out during Phase 2 of the offseason program in Florham Park.
"The biggest difference is the IQ of football. Not worrying about what I'm doing now. It's more what I'm doing and how does that fit into the scheme. We also have a few young guys who will be taking on big roles and stuff, so helping them out now. Last year was me coming in late, learning what I'm supposed to be doing. Now I can look at what the offense is doing and then helping out my teammates, being a leader."
Wearing No. 56, Williams has become a fan favorite at MetLife Stadium for his bone-crunching hits. While he acknowledged the enjoyment the hits bring, he said that they have also been part of his learning process.
"Not always going for the big hit," he said. "That's my thing, going for the big hits, but with doing that I was missing out on turnovers and stuff. It can be second-and-long and I get a big hit, but Coach could be like we could've been off the field and get the offense another possession."
To close the gap this season, the Jets need to produce more than their 14 takeaways in 2021. That number ranked 31st in the NFL and the Green & White tied for 30th in turnover margin (-13).
"The biggest thing now is stealing a possession for the offense. I had a lot of forced fumbles [3 last season], but that's because I was focusing on the hit. So now it's like creating turnovers as far as strips and interceptions. I think I dropped like nine of them last year. But also just being a leader, learning my teammates, so I know how they like to be talked to. I can't talk to some people the same way I talk to my brother. I can't talk to C.J. the same way I talk to other people. For that to happen, I had to be a follower, which I was last year. I followed C.J., repeated after him, so now I know how to be a leader this year and put that into perspective."