Durable Leonard Williams battled ‘ego vs. body’ before ending consecutive games streak – The Denver Post


Leonard Williams saw durability up close as a Jets rookie in 2015, and he decided that’s what he wanted to be as an NFL player:

On the field. Fighting with his teammates. Always.

“D’Brickashaw Ferguson, the left tackle for the Jets when I got there, I found out he never missed a game his whole career,” Williams, 28, said Thursday of Ferguson’s 160-game streak from 2006-15. “And even though he was a quiet guy and we never talked much, that left an impact on me. I was just like, ‘I want to be that type of player that is durable and doesn’t miss a game.’”

Seven seasons later, Williams has become the modern NFL ironman he aspired to be. He played in 114 consecutive games between tenures for the Jets and Giants.

Then Panthers left tackle Taylor Moton inadvertently rolled up on Williams’ right leg in the Giants’ Week 2 win over the Carolina Panthers. The MRI revealed a sprained MCL.

And Williams had to balance his unrivaled will and pain tolerance with realism, which brought his streak to an end on Monday Night as he watched the Giants lose to the Dallas Cowboys from the sideline.

“I was telling some of the guys on the team that I was battling what my ego was saying versus what my body was saying after that [Panthers] game,” Williams said. “Because after a loss or after any game, I would have been like, ‘Dang, I need to get back out there with my guys.’ So I was dealing with that for my ego versus my body knowing that I’m not ready.

“I think at this point,” the defensive lineman said, “I’ve done it this long in my career that I don’t feel like I have anything to prove in that regard. And I just need to listen to my body. A lot of times I say it’s a mindset, but this time it actually was physical. My health comes first and I obviously wasn’t gonna put my best on the field.”

Friend and teammate Dexter Lawrence said Williams, whose nickname is the Big Cat, has not been down and out about his injury.

“He always says he has tiger blood,” Lawrence said with a laugh.

“Oh you heard about that?” Williams said with a nod and a smile.

But Williams is a thoughtful, reflective and proud person. And he admitted Monday’s entire experience wasn’t easy for him at all.

“It was hard,” he said. “I still tried to be a leader and captain on the sideline. But it was definitely a weird feeling, man. I’ve never had to be in that position before. So I didn’t know if I was overly engaging or under engaging on the sideline. I didn’t really know what to do, where to stand.

“Even in the locker room [before the game], guys were getting hype to music, and I felt myself starting to get a little bit hype,” he said. “And then I was like, ‘Wait, I’m not even playing.’ It was a weird feeling.”

Williams is accustomed to playing through anything. Last December, he played the final four games of the 2021 season with a painful bone spur in his right elbow that required surgery after the season.

The only time he didn’t play 16 or 17 games in a season was in 2019, and it wasn’t because of injury. He had two bye weeks due to his trade from the Jets to the Giants.

The Giants’ defense now misses him badly, especially against the run.

The Titans and Panthers averaged only 3.9 yards per carry on the Giants in Weeks 1 and 2 before Williams’ injury, rushing 45 times for 176 yards. Since the Big Cat went down, the Panthers and Cowboys have averaged 7.0 yards per rush on the Giants (34 for 239).

Williams’ first impulse is always to try to come back and help his brothers. But he said Giants legend Michael Strahan helped him put this in perspective on Monday.

“Me and Strahan had a talk before the game, and he was just saying he doesn’t like when announcers or people talk about [how] ‘This guy’s playing hurt,’” Williams said. “Because he’s like ‘When you’re on the field, there’s no excuses. You’re on the field. Ya know? And when you’re on the field, you want to have no doubt about what your body can do, because you’re gonna put film out there.’

“He was just telling me to take my time,” Williams added, “to make sure that I don’t have doubt about how it’s feeling, and once I’m on that field, I’m ready to go.”

That seemingly leaves the Giants without Williams for a second straight game against another team that runs the ball well: the Chicago Bears.

Running back Khalil Herbert is averaging 7.3 yards per carry for an offense with an NFC-best 560 rushing yards through three weeks.

Williams said he needs to “pretty much do a full padded practice” before he returns to game action. He didn’t participate with the team on Thursday.

“I feel like I would get everything I needed out of a full, padded practice,” he said. “I’d be able to play certain runs, double teams, pass rush, change of direction, running full speed, all that type of stuff.”

Not that he needs to prove anything. He set a goal as a rookie to follow in Ferguson’s footsteps.

“So far,” he said. “I’ve been able to hold up to it.”


Rookie corner Cor’Dale Flott (calf) wasn’t on the field for Thursday’s practice and was on a scooter with a removable walking boot in the locker room. The Giants are waiting on MRI results to determine the severity of the third-round pick’s injury.

Edge Jihad Ward (right knee) was upgraded to limited participation in practice. Corner Justin Layne (concussion) was upgraded to a full participant. And starting corner Aaron Robinson (appendix) was limited but said “I think I’ll be able to go” after missing the last two games.

Otherwise the injury report remained the same: Williams (knee), wide receivers Wan’Dale Robinson (knee) and Kadarius Toney (hamstring), and corner Nick McCloud (hamstring) did not participate.

The Giants also re-signed running back Antonio Williams and cut tackle Roy Mbaeteka from the practice squad.



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