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Sacks, contracts and comments: Leonard Williams' season ahead

Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams heads back to

Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams heads back to the locker room after a day of training camp at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in Florham Park, N.J. on Sunday. Credit: James Escher

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Try all you want to rationalize away the numbers, but the bottom line is this: When you’re the No. 6 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and when you’re billed as a disruptive force along the defensive line, it’s all about production. It’s all about the sacks.

But four years into his career, Leonard Williams hasn’t been all about the sacks. Just 17 total. Williams understands the drill.

“We all like to say numbers don’t matter as much, but they do,” Williams said Monday after the Jets’ fifth training camp practice.

Williams, 25, has spoken optimistically the last few years about increasing his sack totals, yet each time, his final stat line has been less than he’d hoped. Last season, he had just five sacks and no forced fumbles – the third time in four years he hasn’t caused a fumble.

But it’s a new year and a new set of circumstances, and Williams sees two reasons things can be different in 2019. The first is new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has a knack for putting linemen in the best positions to succeed. The second is rookie Quinnen Williams, whose presence adds to the depth of a line badly in need of reinforcements.

Williams, Williams & Williams – sounds more like a law firm. But for Leonard Williams, it feels like just the right combination.

“Gregg really has a great understanding of the game of football, and he puts his players in the best positions to make plays,” Leonard said. “Because of that, we’re confusing the offense. It’s allowing us to play fast.”

The addition of Quinnen Williams, the former Alabama star, can only help Leonard Williams avoid many of the double-teams that invariably come his way. And if he can be put into more one-on-one pass rush situations, the sacks just might start coming more often.

“Having so many great guys on the D-line, you’re able to create more of a rotation for guys to be fresh so we can go out there and play at 100 percent,” Leonard Williams said. “When it gets in a clutch situation when you need to be 100 percent. You’re not going to be fresh every game, but having more of a rotation and more guys to play on the D-line is definitely going to allow that to happen."

It’s a particularly important year for Williams in one respect: As he enters the final year of his rookie contract, the Jets will get a good idea of whether they should invest heavily to keep him beyond his current deal.

“That’s another form of motivation,” Williams said. “I got here from playing football and loving the game. At the same time, that’s in the back of people’s minds, the contract, obviously. I love it here. I’m comfortable here. I definitely would want to stay here.”

If the sacks start to come in bunches, the Jets will have an easy decision to make. If not, then perhaps the Williams the Jets build the defense around in the coming years will be Quinnen, not Leonard.

One guy who wouldn’t be surprised if Leonard Williams remains in the team’s plans is coach Adam Gase, who paid plenty of attention to him while game-planning the Dolphins’ offense the previous three seasons.

“I don’t know what it was when he played us, but he was a nightmare,” Gase said. “We’ve doubled him, and the whole game plan was based around him, until Jamal [Adams] came and it was both those guys. But every play we tried to double him, whether it was pass protection or run game, it didn’t seem to matter. We couldn’t run the football against him – ever. He was an absolute nightmare for us.”

That’s the kind of comment Williams pays more attention to, not any outside criticism about low sack totals.

“The way I look at it is just social media nowadays,” he said. “You can’t listen to it. Who I listen to are my coaches and peers, because they’re the ones who see the hustle, they see the grind, they see every play in practice. When you’re hearing good stuff from your coaches and bad stuff from a random fan, obviously I have to listen to the people who are seeing me every day compared to a fan who’s seen one play.”

The easiest way to turn down the outside noise: Start getting to the quarterback more often.

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