Leonard Williams wore a lavender mask as he met the socially distanced media, because he came to the conclusion finally that for him to make life miserable on quarterbacks and running backs again, he could not afford, even as the $63 Million Man, to make life miserable for himself.
“I got my first shot; I still have to wait to get my second shot, and going forward I think I have to wait another two weeks after that,” Williams said.
Freedom of choice and all that, it dawned better late than never on the emerging star defensive end in whom the Giants made a huge investment and decided that assuming the leadership role Joe Judge is expecting from him would be severely compromised as an unvaccinated second citizen.
“I think I would encourage most people to do it, at the same time, everyone had their freedom to do what they want to do,” Williams said. “The only reason why I encourage to do it is because certain protocols hinder us from being together in certain ways. I think it would just be better going forward health-wise and not preventing any loss of games, cancellations or anything like that, just making sure everyone’s on the same page.”
Asked why he waited, Williams said: “I just had a busy offseason, training, and as soon as I got back I got it.”
There was Nate Solder, who opted out of 2020, conducting his socially distanced interview on the patio outside the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, Devontae Booker wearing his lavender mask for his, Blake Martinez (COVID list) absorbing meetings via Zoom.
Williams, who answers to Leo and Big Cat, had offensive linemen across the league asking, “Who was that masked man?” when he erupted for a career-high 11.5 sacks last year.
Big contract. Big expectations. Big pressure not to be a one-hit wonder.
“If I was looking at it in a pressure way, it would be the same way last year,” Williams said. “You try not to focus on the contract or anything like that you’re involved in or what to expect or anything like that, you just really want to focus on the grind, focus on your specific task, your specific ability and what you can bring to the team and how you can make the team better.”
Keep being a disruptive force. Keep sacking the quarterback.
“I’m not focused on numbers, I’m focusing on having another great season,” Williams said.
Williams, in part because he is so well-liked by his teammates, is being counted on by Judge as one of his key locker-room lieutenants, along with Logan Ryan.
“I think I’ve always been a good leader by example, which at this point I think that’s like the easiest thing to do,” Williams said, “and I think just stepping out of my comfort zone and being more of a vocal type of leader. I always make sure I’m on time, I always make sure I’m running and conditioned well and do everything right that way, but speaking to some of those younger guys and speaking to the team is something to step out of my comfort zone and be a bit better if a leader.”
Williams plans on faster play recognition and playing faster, and gives some credit to defensive coordinator Patrick Graham for his breakthrough.
“I think that’s something that Pat Graham talks about a lot is adapt or die,” Williams said. “And it goes to show the way he coaches and the way he plays his defense, we change our defense mid-game sometimes, we change our defense week in and week out depending on who we’re playing, and we have to learn how to adapt, and quickly. I think I have to learn how to adapt a little faster and just elevate my game more.”
Williams silenced all the critics who panned the controversial midseason 2019 trade with the Jets, and now it is legacy time for him.
“Obviously they’ve had great defensive linemen come through here for years now,” Williams said, “and hopefully I’m gonna be a part of that tradition for a longer time now. I’ve been able to talk with Justin Tuck and guys like Michael Strahan and those guys. We’ve obviously had a great defense in Giants for a long time now, so we’ll continue to build on that.”
He is 27 years old. He has yet to experience a playoff game.
“It’s obviously been frustrating, I’m going into my seventh year,” Williams said. “That’s obviously a goal of mine, and I’m looking forward to working towards that.”
He caught his first bluefin tuna, and tradition had him eating its still-beating heart.
“It didn’t taste that bad, it was a little salty,” Williams said.
Now that he’s begun the vaccination process, he should educate reluctant teammates that if he had contracted COVID, he might not have been able to taste it.