FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Leonard Williams is making his presence felt on opposing quarterbacks – even if his sacks total doesn’t tell the whole story.
The New York Jets defensive lineman has just two this season, but he has a whopping 26 quarterback hits. That means he’s getting passers off their spots, forcing throws and making them downright uncomfortable.
”People want to see the sacks,” Williams acknowledged Thursday. ”I wouldn’t really call a QB hit a stat or anything. I just think of it as being disruptive. That’s what a defensive player wants to do, is be disruptive in any way possible.
”No matter what type of stat it is, if you’re being disruptive, that’s a good defensive play.”
Williams entered this season, his third in the NFL, with a goal of getting a sack per game. He’s way off that pace, of course, but he has gotten consistent pressure the past few games. Also, the sprained wrist that ailed him since the summer is fully healed.
”Leo has played well for us,” coach Todd Bowles said. ”He’s been disruptive, even with the double teams. He’s been getting hits on the quarterback and he’s been playing across the line of scrimmage.”
Williams made his first Pro Bowl last season after getting seven sacks and emerging as one of the league’s top young pass rushers. After a slow start during which he went the first eight games without a sack, Williams is looking like his old self again.
Against Kansas City’s Alex Smith last Sunday, Williams had a half-sack and four quarterback hits.
”We think Leonard is definitely improving,” defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers said. ”He’s really coming up. You sit there, and if I’m not mistaken, I think he might have had four or five quarterback hits the other day. He’s really getting to the point where we have high expectations for Leo, and he’s exceeding them.”
Williams might have a good chance to increase his sacks total at Denver on Sunday. The Broncos have given up 39 sacks, tied for third-most in the NFL. Denver is also second-worst in the league with a minus-16 turnover ratio – something Williams and the Jets hope to capitalize on.
”We call it takeaways because if it’s a takeaway, we’re forcing it, rather than a turnover where we’re waiting for them to turn the ball over,” Williams said.
”So, we’re definitely going to try to get after the ball. We see that they had a lot of ball security issues, but at the same time, they’ve been able to recover a lot of them, so that’s on our part to make sure we do recover it when the ball does come out.”
Big things have been expected of Williams since he was selected with the sixth overall pick in the 2015 draft out of USC. He had a steady progression during his first two seasons, but it was clear early this season that something wasn’t quite right.
Williams was forced to play with a cast on his left wrist after suffering a bone bruise during the preseason. While the big lineman has refused to use it as an excuse for his early season struggles, it surely affected his performance.
”He never really said a whole lot,” Rodgers said. ”We just saw his play wasn’t where Leo wanted it to be, but now it’s back to where we expect Leo to be.”
Williams credited assistant defensive line coach La’Roi Glover for helping him progress this season. Glover, who had 83+ sacks during a 13-year career, has been working on pass-rushing drills and techniques with Williams regularly.
”I think it’s just a combination of everything,” Williams said. ”I don’t want to say it’s an injury thing, I don’t want to say it’s a scheme thing, I don’t want to say that it’s anything like that.
”It’s just a matter of, as the season’s been progressing, I’ve just been getting better each game. I’ve been having a lot of help from my teammates. I’ve been doing a lot of extra work, a lot of extra studying.”
And, lately, it has all been paying off for Williams – even if the sacks still haven’t exactly come in bunches.
”That’s the way it goes sometimes, ultimately,” Rodgers said. ”He’s probably kicking himself because he came free on a stunt (Sunday) that he really should have had one. He left one out there, but sometimes it happens like that.
”As long as he keeps hitting the quarterback, we’ll be OK.”
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