A year ago at this time, Quinnen Williams was just focused on getting on the field in college. Now he’s preparing to make his NFL debut. He smiled when reminded of how much his life has changed in 12 months.
“I definitely think about how far I came,” he said.
The Jets believe Williams still can go much further. It is why they took the hulking defensive lineman out of Alabama third overall in last April’s NFL draft.
Though Williams is unlikely to start, he will be a part of new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ rotation on the defensive line, a key part of what the Jets hope will be an improved pass rush.
“He’s going to play a lot,” Gregg Williams said. “He can do that. He’s not slowed down anything intellectually. He’s a smart young man. I don’t worry about him at all.”
“I definitely have a huge confidence right now,” Quinnen Williams said.
The 6-foot-3, 303-pound lineman went from an afterthought at Alabama entering his junior year to arguably the best defensive lineman in the country. He produced eight sacks and a whopping 19.5 tackles for losses last season and was awarded the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman after serving as a backup the year before.
“He’s very quick. He has this knack for football,” veteran Steve McLendon said. “It’s a good thing he did play at Alabama because you could see some stuff that he has already learned. Good hands, good eyes. So, I’m excited to see him [play].”
He was one of the big stories of the summer in Florham Park, right there with the exceptional play of Sam Darnold and the presence of Le’Veon Bell. His play stood out and so did his infectious personality and his eagerness to listen and learn.
“What impresses me the most is his dedication every day to the team,” Leonard Williams said. “Since the day he’s shown up, you can see he’s trying to improve on something new every day. He didn’t come in with a big head, like a lot of first-rounders could sometimes. He came in real humble and just wanted to learn everything he could.
“I feel that want-to and drive will be able to make him great, not just his talent alone.”
Quinnen Williams is trying not to make a big deal out of Sunday, saying he’s approaching it like his fifth game, after four preseason contests. But he knows it will be different and admitted there is a unique excitement, something he has never experienced before.
Of course, he has experienced a lot of firsts during the past 12 months. Sunday’s regular season opener against the Bills at MetLife Stadium will just be the latest one.
But he’s still appreciative of what has happened to him and will not allow himself to be content, either.
“It pushes me every day, because I know where I came from and I know how hard I had to work to get here,” Quinnen Williams said. “Just because I got here, it doesn’t mean I can stop working hard. I got to work even harder because I’m here.”
The Jets, in fact, are counting on it.