Leonard Williams stood up, ferociously clapped his hands and stomped both his feet.
He did not slap or step on any of his critics in the making of his celebration.
It took three quarters into the season opener for the highest-paid player on the Giants to register his first sack of the season and surpass his much-scrutinized total of a half-sack over 15 games last season.
“Getting a sack always feels good, regardless of the circumstances,” Williams said, taking the high road three days after the Giants’ 26-16 loss to the Steelers. “It’s one of the best plays we want to get as defensive linemen. At the same time, it’s only the first week of the season. I’m not satisfied. I’m ready to keep working with the rest of my team to keep getting home [to the quarterback].”
The story of Williams’ first five seasons, split between the Jets and Giants, is he generates pressure in the backfield but is a step away from finishing the play. But his first solo sack since Dec. 30, 2018, was included in three pressures against the Steelers, as counted by Pro Football Focus.
“He had a really good camp for us,” coach Joe Judge said. “This guy is playing with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. He’s fun to be around, and you can tell he really loves the game. He was obviously productive the other night, and we’re going to keep working to see if we can’t help him out a little bit more.”
The entire first-year coaching staff has been impressed behind the scenes by Williams’ inquisitiveness. There is optimism he is on the verge of a long-awaited breakthrough where he is more savvy and less reliant on athleticism.
Williams played 69 percent of the defensive snaps — by far the most along the rotating line — and combined with fellow nose tackle Dexter Lawrence (who also had a sack) to create push up the middle. The Steelers’ longest runs (141 rushing yards) came when bouncing outside against a poorly set edge.
Williams and Lawrence flip-flopped which side of the ball they lined up on to create another wrinkle for the offensive line to think about.
“It’s hard to play against a defense when you can’t single out one person,” Williams said. “If they slide protection to one guy, then the other guy is open. We say to each other, ‘If you are on the right side feeling better than you are on the left, let me know and I’ll work the right.’”
The Bears allowed just one sack and four hurries of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky against the Lions in Week 1. He is a more mobile threat than Ben Roethlisberger, so fresh legs will come into play.
“I felt like every time I was in I was feeling really fresh,” Williams said. “It’s attributed to the way we worked in camp and how much we focused on conditioning. I think it showed.”
Hamstrings are the early-season thorn in the side of the Giants training staff.
Wide receiver Golden Tate was limited during Wednesday’s walk-through practice, as he has been since Aug. 31. Outside linebacker Carter Coughlin was held out. Inside linebacker Tae Crowder returned to practice.
All are dealing with hamstring injuries. Same applied to now-recovered tight end Levine Toilolo last week.