So far, rookie Leonard Williams everything Jets hoped for
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Leonard Williams is a large man with huge hair and enormous expectations.
Well, that's no big deal for the New York Jets rookie defensive end.
The No. 6 overall pick has been in the spotlight for years, anchoring USC's defense while beefing up a football resume that had some believing he was the best overall talent in the draft this year. Williams is all set for his NFL regular-season debut, the capper to a life-changing last few months.
''I thought I was going to be feeling a lot more anxiety and stuff right now, but I feel the preseason definitely calmed that down for me,'' Williams said Thursday. ''It gave me a good feel for going against other competition in the NFL besides just my teammates. I feel like preseason prepared me well for this.''
Williams has had a solid summer for the Jets, impressing his coaches and teammates. He walked into a situation in which New York's defensive line was already loaded, so he doesn't have to be a savior.
''Leonard is everything we thought he would be coming out,'' defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers said. ''Hardworking guy and extremely talented.''
The Jets just want him to be a playmaking complement to defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and nose tackle Damon Harrison while fellow end Sheldon Richardson is suspended the first four games of the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
''Leonard came in and what impressed us early on was that his mental (approach) was very good,'' coach Todd Bowles said. ''He asks a lot of questions, and that's rare for a rookie coming in like that.''
The 6-foot-5, 302-pound Williams is a physical presence, and his puffed-out lion-like mane - he's nicknamed ''Big Cat'' - catches your eye whenever he walks into the locker room. Out on the field, he was a force in college, regularly disrupting opponents' backfield and getting up close and personal with quarterbacks as he drove them into the turf.
After a quiet first preseason game with the Jets, Williams had a breakout performance against Atlanta with 1 1/2 sacks, including a safety.
''The first game, I was saying that I felt like I wasn't getting enough snaps and I felt like I wasn't making any tackles or plays,'' Williams said. ''So being able to get some stats in the game after that, like some tackles, it definitely boosted my confidence a little bit and showed me that I could do this at the next level.''
Williams injured a muscle behind his knee during the Jets' third preseason game against the Giants, but expects to be a full-go for the season opener against Cleveland on Sunday.
''There's still a little bit of pain and it was really sore the day after our first practice Monday,'' Williams said. ''I'm feeling more comfortable on it now.''
Since being drafted, the 21-year-old Williams has moved to New Jersey, gotten his driver's license, and gone through his first NFL training camp.
The next milestone will be Sunday against the Browns, when Williams expects to feel a few butterflies before the game.
''I'm pretty sure I will,'' he said, relating it to his first college game against Hawaii in 2012. ''It goes away after the first play.''
Williams is also sporting a new jersey number these days, switching on Monday from No. 62 to No. 92. He wore No. 94 at USC, but that number belongs to Harrison. So, Williams had to wait until final roster cuts to get something in the 90s.
He had three options: 92, 93 and 95. Williams went for the number that former Pro Bowl defensive end Shaun Ellis once wore for the Jets during an 11-year career with the franchise.
''I knew of him before,'' Williams said, ''and after the numbers were available, a lot of people were telling me, `You know, Shaun Ellis' name was `Big Katt,' too,' so I started looking up his highlights and stuff like that.''
So, what did he think?
''I think he's nasty, as you should be as a defensive lineman, and I felt he just gets after it,'' Williams said. ''So I hope I can honor him.''
Williams is working at staying consistent, and being a guy who Bowles and Rodgers can rely on to get to the quarterback when needed and stop the run at other times.
''I guess I've always kind of been under pressure ever since I got to college,'' Williams said. ''I'm used to playing under pressure now. It's kind of something that drives me instead of hinders me.''
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