EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Leonard Williams has become one of the Giants most productive players this season and he said it's all part of the process.
The sixth-year defensive lineman leads the team with 5.0 sacks, seven tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hits. The sack total is 10 times greater than the half-sack he had in the entire 2019 season and just 2.0 sacks shy of the career-high total he registered as a pro sophomore with the Jets in 2016. Williams has been credited with 32 tackles (16 solo).
"I think this guy has done a really good job with everything we've asked him to do," coach Joe Judge said. "He's playing good, fundamental technique and good, sound execution within the schemes. He's using his hands very well to get off blocks, he plays with a high motor. He's really using his pass rush moves and his counters off it to get him to the ball. Leonard's a guy that obviously we knew had a tremendous amount of potential. He has a great attitude. This guy comes to work every day with his hair on fire, really into his football. The team loves being around him, he brings a lot of energy to the building. He's fun to coach. I think this guy has really helped our team just on all avenues, but for his own specific game, I don't see any area of his game that hasn't been improved this year. I think (defense line coach Sean) Spence(r) has done a phenomenal job working with him."
Leonard credits Judge, Spencer and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham for helping him take a take a step forward – literally and figuratively – this season.
Williams is aware of public perceptions that he hadn't made enough plays to justify the Jets selecting him with the sixth overall draft choice in the 2015 NFL Draft. At times, that prompted him to try to do too much to raise him numbers. When Spencer joined the staff this season after 20 seasons as a collegiate coach, he believed the Williams needed a change of perspective to maximize his skills.
"The whole thing with Leonard is he's tremendously talented individual," Spencer said. "Myself and him and coach Graham and coach Judge have really just concentrated on him focusing on the process and not the results. I think sometimes when you're results driven, you go outside your work and you start to press. And when you start to press, you're not going to get the results you want. Focusing on the detail of how do you get the sack - low pad level playing with your hands, playing with extension. Those are the things we've tried to work on with him to get him to where he wants to be and where we want him to be."
Williams became more productive doing what he's asked to do and not what he thought he had to do.
"There have been times where if I heard something in the media, as much as you try not to pay attention to that stuff, it's clearly out there," Williams said. "I started playing out of my game a little bit, pressing to make the big play or make a sack or a flash play like that. I would just get out of my progression. Whereas Coach Spence said if you just play every down hard and you go through your progression and you read your keys and you just play every down, then the big plays will come to you, basically. You're not out there reaching or searching for a big play. The big play will just come by doing your process."
Williams has had a sack in five of the Giants' nine games this season. After tackling Tom Brady and Alex Smith for eight and seven-yard losses the last two weeks, he hopes to run his sack streak to three consecutive games when the Giants host the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday in MetLife Stadium.
The irony to Williams is that he believes he's always been a consistently productive player. But since his sack numbers were not as large as fans and the media apparently expected them to be, he didn't receive acknowledgement from his contributions.
"I've had this same game in my style of play since I've been in the league," Williams said. "It's just now that the sack number itself, that stat is on the paper, that's all people see. They think that all of a sudden, I'm playing way better than I have been before. I think I have been still playing well in the past. It's just like fans don't see those plays that you make that just don't count toward a sack.
"Not too much has changed from my game in general, honestly. I feel like I was still making those same plays in the run game. I think the difference is closing that gap between a quarterback hit and a sack at times. That just goes from Pat Graham and Spencer staying on me about being consistent and just trusting myself basically. Just trusting myself more and that confidence growing in myself, which has helped me play harder and faster."
So did a week he spent in Atlanta last spring with former defensive lineman Richard Seymour, who won three Super Bowls and was selected to seven Pro Bowls in a 12-year career with the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders.
"He introduced me to his family and basically kind of took me under his wing, talked some football," Williams said. "We watched a little bit of film together. Then we worked out a few days together. He was teaching me mindsets, because he was like, 'Now that you're in the league, a lot of people have the body types to be successful. But you have to apply the mindset with the body to make it work.' He was just teaching me mental game stuff."
Like the advice he received from Spencer, Williams has taken the lessons from Seymour and applied them on the field, with impressive success.
"I think just knowing that he's watching and knowing that he's a mentor in the back of my mind kind of also plays an effect," Williams said. "I feel like every snap I'm playing, I'm like 'Oh, Richard's watching.' I feel like that's kind of helped me a little, honestly. He's reached out to me after games and vice-versa. If I feel like I have a question or something I need to think about, I'll reach out to him. It's a cool relationship."
Williams is pleased he's made more constant and conspicuous contributions this season but he's hardly satisfied. The Giants have seven remaining games and Williams intends to be a force in every one of them.
"I would say that this has been one of my more productive years, but we have another game coming up," he said. "We still have almost half a season left after the bye week. I'm focused on trying to finish and not be satisfied with where I'm at now."
View photos of the Giants practicing at MetLife Stadium ahead of Sunday's rivalry game against the Eagles.