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Leonard Williams works with first team on first day of camp

Leonard Williams could play a key role after Sheldon Richardson was suspended for the first four games of the season. Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. –- On the first day of New York Jets' training camp, a lot of eyes were on a defensive lineman with an odd jersey number.

Leonard Williams already is hard to overlook due to his 6-foot-5, 302-pound frame and unique hair. But the Jets' rookie also stood out a bit during the opening practice on Thursday with the No. 62 jersey he was wearing.

"Actually all the [higher] numbers are gone right now and that is what they gave me," Williams said. "That is what I am playing with."

If Williams and the Jets have their way, the sixth overall pick out of USC will be standing out early this season with his play more than anything else.

Getting reps with the first team, Williams hopes to show that he can fill the massive void the Jets' defense will have in the first four games of the season without the suspended Sheldon Richardson.

And considering that news came out late Thursday that Richardson has been charged with resisting arrest after a July 14 incident in which police say he was driving a car engaged in a high-speed road race near his home in St. Louis, Williams' progression becomes even more vital.

"He'll get a bunch of snaps at it," head coach Todd Bowles said of whether Williams will get the majority of Richardson's first-team snaps before the Richardson' resisting arrest news emerged later in the day. "I mean we have [Leger] Douzable, [Stephen] Bowen and we have [Kevin] Vickerson. We have a bunch of guys that will get reps. But Leonard, we'll take a long look at him."

Like any rookie in his first training camp practice, Williams had some moments he would rather have back. He was pushed backward onto the ground on one running play by right guard Dakota Dozier during practice which was not in full pads.

"There were just a few times where they coached me up and said I have a good initial get off and punch," Williams said of the feedback he heard on Day 1. "But there were a few times where I didn't run my feet and my feet didn't follow and I fell down like two times."

"[The] biggest challenge is getting adjusted to the speed, learning the communication and just bonding with my teammates. Now that I am out there with the ones, I just got to learn to communicate with everybody."

Williams was considered almost a luxury when the Jets drafted him in the first round. But now with Richardson's future perhaps a bit hazier with the latest off-the-field incident, Williams could find himself playing a key role from the start.

The USC product said that he did think about his role increasing when he heard news of Richardson's four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

"Whether what happened to Richardson happened or not, I was still coming to camp with the same mindset to work and see where I fit in and try to earn a spot on the field as soon as possible," Williams said before news emerged of Richardson's July 14 incident.

Williams said Richardson, who practiced with the second team, was keeping a close eye on the rookie and offering pointers throughout the day.

"Strong, physical guy," defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson said of Williams. "Of course he got some things to work on. We all do. It is the first day. Looking forward to playing with him, definitely."

With more first-team reps, Williams could eventually impress. And perhaps that might lead to a new jersey number and perhaps a starting job for at least the first four games of the season.

"Going into rookie camp, I was kind of nervous," Williams said. "After going through OTA's and mini camp, it definitely built my confidence up a little bit. I've only been here for a few months and had a few practices. There's still so much that I have to prove to myself and teammates and coaches before I go in full of confidence this season."

"The first day of camp went well for me and I want to go into film and fix those missed assignments and hopefully have guys like Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson still help me out and coach me up on those things."