Leonard Williams hopes to be latest impressive Jets pass-rusher

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. –- Rookie Leonard Williams recently introduced himself to one of the most famous pass-rushers to wear a New York Jets uniform.

"Yeah, I met 'Gus-tineau,'" Williams said.

The rookie was quickly corrected with how Mark Gastineau's name is pronounced. So far, that might be the only thing the first-round pick has seriously messed up at in his short but promising career.

Jets coaches and players were quick to praise Williams on Thursday, days before he makes the first start of his career at defensive end against the Cleveland Browns.

"Leonard is everything we thought he would be coming out," said defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers. "Hardworking guy and extremely talented. The thing that really stands out is that he kind of picked up the system really well and going into a D-line group that has had a bunch of talented guys in there, he has kind of meshed with them really well.

"The chemistry of that room is really outstanding. But from where Leonard is from Day 1 to where he is now, we are very pleased."

The sixth overall pick was supposed to be a luxury for the defensive-line heavy Jets. But with Sheldon Richardson getting ready to serve a four-game suspension, Williams was pressed into action early and he's responded thus far.

The first thing you may notice about Williams is his 6-foot-5, 302-pound frame. His athleticism has stood out as well. But Jets coaches have been perhaps most impressed with his mental approach.

"Leonard came in and what impressed us early on is his mental is very good," head coach Todd Bowles said. "He learned the playbook. He understands his assignments and he asks a lot of questions. That is rare for a rookie coming in like that to ask those types of questions and then not mess them up when he gets in there.

"He's always been a hard worker. He comes out every day. You know what you are getting with him. He is going to play hard and play fast and he is going to know what he's doing."

During the preseason, Williams had six tackles and 1.5 sacks.

Of course, Bowles knows that there will be a learning curve full of highs and lows for Williams like any other rookie. He will face blocking schemes and techniques that he has never seen before.

Right away, Williams will be put to the test as he could see plenty of eight-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas on Sunday.

Bowles knows he and everybody else will have to temper expectations for Williams early on.

"You expect him to learn from his mistakes," Bowles said. "He is going to see a lot of different blocking schemes that he hasn't seen. That will be part of it, the growing. The biggest thing is how fast can he learn and correct those mistakes and get better from there. You kind of temper expectations because you know he is going to have to go through some growing pains."

One thing is certain, Williams isn't shy about asking veterans and coaches any questions he may have. He has leaned on nose tackle Damon Harrison for guidance quite a bit already in part because he says he didn't start playing football until high school.

Here he is now, preparing for his first NFL game. The rookie goes into the season opener studying as much as he can and feeling a bit healthier after dealing with some pain behind his knee above his calf.

"I feel like the biggest improvement is staying consistent," Williams said of what he improved on in camp. "And I showed I can get to the quarterback some plays and I showed I can stop the run some plays. But being the most consistent is what I am working on the most."

As for that "Gus-tineau" guy, Williams said he didn't have much time to chat with the popular former Jet pass-rusher. But judging by what Jets coaches are saying about him, Williams will certainly ask Gastineau more questions the next time they meet.

And he will definitely get Gastineau's last name right too.

"He is a pretty good guy," Williams said of Gastineau. "He is always laughing every time he comes to practice because he is always saying that guys are so much bigger now than they used to be."

Few as big as the Jets' newest pass rushing prodigy.