Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams is entering his fourth season as comfortable as ever. In turn, he’s taking more of a leadership role.
When Williams first entered the league as the No. 6 overall pick in 2015, he joined a room with the likes of Damon Harrison, Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson. Fast forward three years and Williams is now the longest tenured defensive lineman on the team.
“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 said 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.
“I was one of the younger guys. It’s the same way if me and Mac (DL Steve McLendon) said something in the room, the younger guys would follow. 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.”
Jets head coach Todd Bowles said the “Big Cat” has been more vocal since coming back for OTAs, but the 6’5”, 302-pounder has never been a “rah-rah” guy in terms of his leadership.
“On gameday 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 to me.”
The USC product said he “naturally” has a different mindset with being more comfortable in the defensive system and is more aware of what coaches and teammates expect from him.
After receiving national recognition as a Pro Bowler in 2016, Williams aims to break into the upper echelon of defensive linemen in the league. In three seasons, he’s recorded 230 tackles, 22 for loss and 12 sacks with the Green & White. The Florida native has also led the defense each season with 32, 25 and 28 quarterback hits.
“What I’ve been talking to Glove (assistant DL coach La’Roi Glover) is that as long as we’re getting better each day, that’s the main focus right now,” he said. “We try not to look back but keep looking forward. As long as today’s practice is better than yesterday’s practice, then we’re getting progress. Eventually, I want to be one of the top guys.”