FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- A year ago, Quinnen Williams was the only impact player on the New York Jets' defensive line. That could change this season, with the additions of Carl Lawson and Sheldon Rankins.
"When you got a family full of sharks, you're all going to eat," Williams said Monday after being activated from the physically unable to perform list.
These Jets are a confident bunch, considering they were an NFL laughingstock only eight months ago after a 2-14 season. The defense, emboldened by the new coaching staff and its player-friendly scheme, is particularly swaggerlicious. Just the other day, mild-mannered linebacker C.J. Mosley said, "If people sleep on the Jets ... you're going to get your ass blown out."
Let's take a deep breath and relax. The Jets aren't that kind of team yet, but their defensive line -- easily the deepest position group -- has a chance to be pretty good. While Lawson is generating buzz because of his fast start, it all starts with Williams and how quickly he can rebound from offseason foot surgery.
He sat out the entire offseason and the first three weeks of training camp, returning to the field on Monday. He didn't practice with the team; he participated in individual drills, but he will get some reps later in the week in joint practices with the Green Bay Packers. He won't play in Saturday's preseason game at Lambeau Field (4:25 p.m. ET, NFL Network).
The Jets have a plan mapped out that will allow Williams to be ready for the Sept. 12 season opener against the Carolina Panthers. He said he's in great shape after the long layoff, but you'd be naïve to think he will be 100% in Week 1. It will be a gradual ramp-up process. When he's back to full strength, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 draft has a chance to be a breakout star in coach Robert Saleh's 4-3 defense.
Instead of reading blocks and reacting to keys in a 3-4 defensive front, as he did in college and his first two pro seasons, Williams should flourish in Saleh's one-gap scheme, which allows the linemen to explode upfield without having to worry about the run.
"The scheme itself is amazing," Williams said. "You get a chance to unleash yourself and get a chance to get after the quarterback, and get a chance to be explosive and use all the attributes that each guy has. This will help me unleash my explosiveness."
Williams finished with a team-high seven sacks in 2020, an impressive total for an interior lineman, but it was his run-stopping ability that garnered the most praise. He led NFL interior linemen with a 49.2% run-stop win rate, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- meaning he recorded a run-stop "win" on nearly half his snaps.
In the new scheme, Williams should see an uptick in sack production. He could do considerable damage as a 3-technique, especially with the speed-rushing Lawson on his outside shoulder.
Quinnen Williams says he's eager to rejoin the rest of the D-line. Says they can feed off each other.— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) August 16, 2021
"When you have a family full of sharks, everyone is going to eat." #Jets pic.twitter.com/Lr1rvRKJiE
"The man is just pure mass, right?" Saleh said. "I mean you look at him, he's enormous, and to get all that mass moving forward without having to read anything on the fly is just absolute attack up front. It's hard to stop that mass from moving, especially with how strong he is, how smart he is, how violent he is and how explosive he is. So the amount of knock-back that we feel like he'll be able to generate in this scheme, and the amount of disruptions that we feel like he'll be able to generate, it's going to be awesome."
But first things first.
To maximize his burst off the line, Williams said he's learning a new stance. He hasn't had to do that since youth football, so we're talking about a back-to-basics adjustment period. That could lead to a slow start, especially when you add in rust and conditioning issues. His goal is to "dominate everyone in front of me on every single play," but he stopped short of making a bold prediction for 2021.
"I haven't even scratched the surface on what I can become in this league," Williams said.
When that happens, prepare for Shark Week.