Brian Hill of the Atlanta Falcons fails to pull in this reception for a TD against Tevaughn Campbell and Avery Williamsonof the Jets on Aug. 15, 2019 in Atlanta.

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Lichtenstein: Unnecessary Playing Time For Avery Williamson Brings Dire Consequences For Jets

Steve Lichtenstein
August 16, 2019 - 4:16 pm
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Hindsight is 20/20, and the pictures from Jets linebacker Avery Williamson’s MRI following Thursday’s 22-10 preseason victory in Atlanta couldn’t be clearer.

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Those pictures revealed a torn ACL, which will end Williamson’s 2019 NFL campaign before it officially begins.

What Williamson, the team’s defensive signal-caller and one of the best run-stuffers in the league, was doing out on the field with backups during the second quarter in a meaningless game should be haunting the minds of head coach Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for the rest of the preseason.

In fact, the CBS announcers were wondering the same thing before Williamson was caught by friendly fire while covering a pass into the end zone. He was hit on the knee by diving Jets cornerback Tevaughn Campbell, a bubble player (on this team only) whose prior professional experience has been limited to the CFL. Williamson limped off and didn’t return.

Maybe Gase and Williams felt they wanted Williamson on the field at that point because the Falcons were still running with many of their offensive starters, including quarterback Matt Ryan. Maybe if Blake Cashman, the rookie linebacker who previously had been earning some first-team reps in passing situations, hadn’t been sidelined all week in practice due to a hamstring injury, Williamson would have been spared the additional game reps.

It shouldn’t have mattered. The goal of these games should be to play guys no more than they need to.  In some cases, such as with Jets running back Le’Veon Bell or Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones, that might be no action at all until the games count. Why risk it? I mean, who would have cared if the next linebacker up for the Jets couldn’t match up with the Falcons? The standings revert to 0-0 after Labor Day.

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Going forward, the Jets will be relying on Williams to scheme away this loss the same way he has designed blitz-heavy game plans to disguise the team’s deficiencies in the secondary. Williamson received the fifth-highest run defense rating by ProFootballFocus.com among NFL linebackers last season.  

The Jets might give Neville Hewitt, Williamson’s unofficial backup, an opportunity to win a starting job, but I’d rather they’d go with more 4-3 looks, since Gang Green has better quality depth on the defensive line. C.J. Mosley, the big-money free agent acquisition from Baltimore, would be relied upon heavily as the sole middle linebacker.

Ironically, the Williamson injury might give a reprieve to Brandon Copeland, who was a starter at outside linebacker last season but was seen playing during fourth-quarter garbage time on Thursday night, a possible indication that he is on the roster bubble. He’s a versatile player in terms of his skillset—he’s listed at six-foot three and 260 pounds with average speed around the edge. It’s just that he doesn’t do anything exceptionally well.

Maybe the Jets now keep Copeland around for his bulk on early downs. Gase has not given an update on Cashman, but prior reports suggested that Williams was planning to utilize his speed in coverage on regular season Sundays. During team drills at practices, it was Williamson who was replaced on the field.

Now, the Jets need a permanent replacement, one of the unfortunate consequences that are all too frequent in this profession.

The debate on the necessity of preseason games will continue until the owners and the players come to terms with the money differences any adjustment will create. In most cases, the owners force fans who purchase season tickets to buy these non-events as well. They’re not giving that revenue up simply because it’s the right thing to do.

So, it’s on coaches to manage their players to minimize, since there’s no way to eliminate, the risk that comes with playing tackle football. Playing Williamson at that stage of a preseason game was simply poor risk management.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.