Avery Williamson was in Alabama, working out and rehabbing from a torn ACL during the COVID-19 quarantine. He was by himself, and even more so when his gym closed down.
He didn’t want to visit his parents for fear of getting them sick. Like many, the Jets linebacker was going stir crazy.
“The biggest thing was being by myself and doing the same thing every day. It was terrible,” Williamson said. “Just the same thing every day, that was mentally just killing me.”
It didn’t help matters that Williamson’s future as a Jet was unclear.
There were rumors that they were looking to trade or cut him. The final year of his three-year, $22.5-million salary wasn’t guaranteed. Waiving him would have saved the Jets $8.5 million.
Williamson tried not to pay attention, but he couldn’t help it.
“It’s kind of hard when you don’t have anything to do during a quarantine,” Williamson said. “You just never know in this business what could happen.”
Indeed. After all of that uncertainty, Williamson is now expected to be key player of the Jets’ defense again. Perhaps even their defensive signal-caller, as he was in 2018.
Middle linebacker C.J. Mosley, a four-time Pro Bowl player, was supposed to be the leader of this defense, but last weekend he opted out of his contract because of family health concerns over the coronavirus. Now, Williamson is primed to be a leader, ready to bounce back from a preseason injury that kept him out all of last season.
“It definitely was kind of crazy how it all worked out,” he said. “Now I’m just making sure that I’m set for the season. I just want to be a part of this defense and be a leader on this defense and help this team get some victories.”
The Jets have returning depth at inside linebacker. James Burgess and Neville Hewitt finished first and second in tackles last season. There's also Blake Cashman, B.J. Bello and former Raven Patrick Onwuasor, whose signing could prove huge. But Williamson has the most experience being the middle linebacker/defensive quarterback.
Williamson was a four-year starter with the Titans before signing with the Jets in 2018. He played every snap that season and made a team-best 120 tackles. Last year, he was transitioning to weakside linebacker next to Mosley. Williamson feels comfortable at both spots.
“I’m just making sure I know both positions,” he said. “Whatever position they want to use me, I feel like I’ll do a good job. I was starting to get comfortable at the [weakside] position last year. I feel like I’ll pick right up where I left off.”
Williamson is on the physically unable to perform list, but he said he’ll be ready for Week 1 in Buffalo.
Once Williamson is playing again, it will be a huge relief for Adam Gase. The Jets coach still feels bad for not removing Williamson in that meaningless preseason game in Atlanta last Aug. 15. He tore his right ACL late in the first half.
“It’s one that I take a lot of responsibility on,” Gase said. “I just kind of kick myself thinking, ‘He should have never been on the field. This should never have happened. We should have had him for the season.’ He was great about the whole thing. He knew how I felt about it. He focused on getting better.
“I’m going to be extremely excited to see him going again. I just want to see him get in pads, be able to start playing football again. That’s going to be a good day for me personally. I know for him it will be a great day. But I’m really excited to see him play.”
Williamson said Gase told him “a million times I hated that it happened.” Williamson appreciated his coach expressing how sorry he was, and checking on him from time to time. But now Williamson is focused on playing football again.
“There’s a lot of frustration that came with the injury,” Williamson said. “But at the end of the day, if you hold on to stuff like that, it’s just going to eat away at you. I had my moments where I was in some dark places, didn’t want to talk to anybody and stuff. I feel like I’ve moved past it. Just the fact that I’m running and stuff and able to move and closer to being on the field, that’s the happiness I want to have. That makes me feel good.
“At this point I’m ready to work and just go out there and show I’m back where I was last year and ready to take the next step and be even better than last year.”