After West Tennessee native Avery Williamson played his first four seasons with the Tennessee Titans, he signed with the Jets in March. On Sunday afternoon, Williamson will make a return to Nissan Stadium and lock horns with the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
"It's a business, so I ended up changing teams. At the end of the day, the jersey I put on — I'm going 100 percent for them," Williamson said. "When I put that jersey on, on Sunday, and I see the opposing offense and a lot of my buddies, they know I'll be bringing it."
Despite the Jets' 3-8 record, Williamson has brought it all season for the Green & White. His 117 tackles lead the club and he is one of only two players in the NFL (Rams ILB Cory Littleton) with at least 85 tackles, 3.0 sacks, four pass defenses and six tackles for loss.
"It means a lot to him. I know he's had this game circled on his calendar for a long time," said Darron Lee, who pairs with Williamson at inside 'backer. "He's definitely been preparing well, but he's been having a chip on his shoulder and having a little side comment here and there about it. But I'm looking for him to have a big game."
Over the last three games, Williamson's 33 total tackles tie for the most in the league according to Radar 360. Once a quiet young player among older Titan defenders, the 26-year-old Williamson has taken on a significantly different role with the Jets. He is responsible for getting the play call to his teammates and setting the defense up in terms of fronts and coverages.
"I had to learn to be more vocal and learn to speak up and be a leader, so it was definitely a role reversal that I had to get used to from being in Tennessee," he said. "I just sat back, I might say a couple of things but a lot of the older guys, the veterans, eight-year guys and nine-year guys, they were the ones speaking up. So being here is a lot different, but I've definitely got accustomed to being a more vocal."
While the 6'1", 246-pound Williamson has been solid since inking his deal, he also has been victimized by a couple of big plays. He pointed to himself after letting Bears weapon Tarik Cohen leak out on a seven-man blitz and the result was a 70-yard touchdown in Week 8. Then following the Jets' 27-13 loss to the Patriots last Sunday, Williamson took the blame for Rob Gronkowski's 34-yard scoring reception against a Cover 2 look.
"I'm a guy who is going to stand up to my mistakes and make sure I fix it," he said. "You're not going to play perfect but when you mess up, you have to learn to embrace it and just move on from it."
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In their last two games, the Jets surrendered 212 yards and 215 yards on the ground to the Bills and the Patriots respectively. The rush defense has fallen to 27th (128.2 Yds/G) and they've also allowed a league high 18 rushes of 20+yards.
"The thing about football is you have to have 11 guys on the same page on every play to be great," Williamson said. "If one guy doesn't do his job, then everybody looks bad. That's the tough part, keeping 11 guys on the same page for 60 minutes. Sometimes you get a guy out of a gap and they break a run or a guy doesn't know which coverage he's supposed to be in. That's the challenge of this game is just being locked in and having everybody as a group being cohesive and knowing what to do."
Williamson, who says he might engage in some trash-talking Sunday with left tackle Taylor Lewan and center Ben Jones, will have a rooting section back in Tennessee. It's a homecoming that he'll treasure, but he ultimately wants to help the Jets turn things around in his new home.
"This is my team and I definitely want to be part of something special," he said. "I know it hasn't been the season that we wanted, but there is still work to be done. I definitely want to be part of it."