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Anthony Rushing

Rushing: Leonard Williams leading the defense will fuel the Jets

David Pokress/Sportsday Wire

The time is now for Leonard Williams to step up. It’s his time to shine as a team leader for the Jets.

Williams caught the attention of his coaches, teammates, and the media with how he’s carried himself during OTA workouts. The “Big Cat”, entering his fourth NFL season, looks ready to add more to his plate.

“Yes, he has, especially this offseason. Since we’ve been back he’s become a lot more vocal,” head coach Todd Bowles said when asked about the more vocal Williams. “Obviously that comes with growing of age and confidence as well, but he’s become more of a leader.”

The coming of age for Williams is huge for the Jets right now and for their future. This is a team coming off a 4-11 season with plenty of young talent still working to find their way, especially on defense.

Bowles has his hands full with the youth on this team, he’ll need young leaders to continue emerging from the pact.

 Williams fits the bill.

This is a big-time talent with enough years under his belt to command a team huddle and locker room with his voice.

When the Jets took Williams with the sixth overall pick in the 2015 draft he joined a defensive line which already included Damon Harrison, Sheldon Richardson, and Muhammad Wilkerson.

Those three big names are gone. Williams, at 6’5″, 302 pounds, now stands tall as the longest tenured defensive lineman on the team.

The Jets will need him to be the one that keeps the defense focused and on message. This includes on the field and in the locker room.

He’s been around long enough to see how quick a team can unravel if there’s multiple agendas in the locker room. That’s big-time value to have on a team as young as the Jets are.

Of course, there’s more that the Jets will need from Williams besides his willingness to be more vocal. He’s also going to have to lead on the field with his play.

Second-year players Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye will be counted on to follow-up their respective impressive rookie campaigns. The Jets gave $34 million guaranteed to free agent pickup Trumaine Johnson. He’ll team up with the returning Morris Claiborne to give Bowles his ideal shutdown and hard-hitting secondary.

This unit projects to be one of the best in the league, an added incentive for Williams and the defensive line to get pressure on the quarterback.

Williams knows how to get to the opposing team’s quarterback.

He had 25 quarterback hits last season, tied for the seventh most in the NFL. The Jets have benefited from his versatility to line up at defensive end or tackle and he’s a great run-stopper as well as accruing tackles for loss.

But he’s fallen short in the sack category with registering only 12 in his career. The Jets need him to start getting that number up.

Williams has the potential to be one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL. His skill set, including his willingness now to step up into a more vocal leadership role, could elevate him to one of the sport’s elite.

In the city that never sleeps, for a team working their way back up from the bottom, it’s all there for Williams if he’s ready.

All signs so far are pointing towards that being a yes.

 

 


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