It’s nearly three months since USC’s Leonard Williams, in a somewhat surprising turn of events, landed into the Jets’ laps at number six in the draft. Those three months have seen Williams undertake his first spring as a pro; rookie camp, OTAs and mini camp. With a few weeks to go before training camp begins, how has the Big Cat settled into his Green and White Jersey according to himself and those around him?
From the start the Jets rated Williams highly. Mike Maccagnan, letting fans into some war room secrets during a speech at Hofstra University, explained how they, like most of the NFL world, had not expected him to be available at six but when the opportunity did arise, no trade offers were good enough to pass up on such as great player. He certainly believes in the potential and value that Williams brings.
Todd Bowles too is impressed by Williams’ first showings as a Jet, especially from a mental perspective. He particularly points to his maturity, which is believes is more than would normally be expected from a rookie, especially one so young:
“This guy is always where he needs to be, he’s always on time, he’s always in the playbook. He’s asking more questions that the normal rookies usually ask at this point in time. So from this standpoint, I’d say he has age beyond his years.”
This also speaks well to the new levels of professionalism and accountability Todd is trying to instill in the entire time. He seems to be picking up the playbook well too, according to Bowles, and is a quick learner, adapting his play to the pro system: “He’s learning and getting better everyday.” You can’t ask for much more than that from your first rounder at this point.
Although you’d expect it from a PR perspective, the Jets d-line veterans were keen to welcome Leonard to the fold through social media following the draft. Although the drafting of Williams at the same time as Wilkerson is hankering for a big contract deal, may have caused some issues, Wilkerson too has publicly supported Williams saying: “I’m looking forward to working with him and playing with him in the trenches.”
In return, Williams has spoken positively of his relationship with both Mo and Sheldon Richardson as mentors (although let’s hope it’s Sheldon’s on field antics he’s picked up tips from). Throughout the activities so far, Williams has been working with the first team, rotating as needed to the second field. He believes there is great chemistry on the d-line and he feels comfortable in this group. Following mini camp, it seems that the defense as a whole are looking good with Bowles suggesting they are currently ahead of the offense. “Turnovers always matter,” he said, and from a defensive point of view there were a number. David Harris has also spoken of the aggressiveness of the defense and the pace in which the new system is being picked up, as well as how the d-line is, “even stronger than last year,” an indication that Williams will make an impact. This is now even more pertinent, given the suspension this week of Richardson, which will clearly lead to a larger role for Williams from the start.
From his own point of view, Williams is clearly excited for the opportunity which has befallen him (and which has arguably increased in recent days). He has high expectations for himself, stating that he has, “no statistical goals,” but has suggested he is looking to both become defensive rookie of the year and make the pro-bowl in his first year. He seems keen to learn from veterans but is aware of his limitations, acknowledging that learning the play book has been especially challenging.
Of course, mini camp and OTAs are not proper football so training camp will be the first opportunity to see Williams padded up and in full swing. Indications so far suggest that he is making a positive transition into the pros especially from a mental standpoint, something which many rookies struggle with. Hopefully this trend will continue into training camp, when things get a little more real. It’s a good job that things are heading in this direction for Williams and the team, considering this week’s events. Not many teams could fill a hole such as that which Richardson leaves with such a high calibre replacement and Williams now has an even greater opportunity to prove himself from the outset.