FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — If all goes as planned, if Jamal Adams reaches his full potential, there’s a perfect example of what to expect from the Jets’ second-year safety.
Think former Steelers All-Pro Troy Polamalu — minus the trademark mane of black hair.
Ask Adams who he models his game after, and he’ll tell you it’s the guy who elevated safety play to an art form during his 12-year career in Pittsburgh.
“I’m a big Troy Polamalu fan,” Adams said Wednesday at the Jets’ three-day minicamp. “It’s his instincts. He let the game come to him. If he felt something, he was going to do it. He was not only physical, but he was so smart in knowing the game, knowing what his defense was going to do, knowing what the [opposing] offense was going to do beforehand. He always had a jump on the ball, a jump on the play.”
Adams took a major step in the direction of living up to that lofty status, although there is still a long, long way to go before anyone can speak of him in the same breath as Polamalu. The former Steelers star played from 2003-2014, earning eight Pro Bowl nominations, four All-Pro selections and Defensive Player of the Year honors for the 2010 season.
The Jets’ sixth overall pick last year, Adams showed some of the instincts that led to a dynamic season from the 22-year-old former LSU star. Adams didn’t have any interceptions but was an All-Rookie selection.
The bar is now raised higher, as he continues his NFL journey with even greater expectations — from those around him, but mostly from inside.
“Year one to year two should be a difference,” Adams said. “That’s what I’m shooting for.”
Adams has all the physical tools you want for an NFL safety — he’s 6-1, 213 pounds and runs the 40 in 4.45 — but it’s what goes on inside his head — and his eyes — that could mean the biggest difference this year.
“As a safety, as a corner, as a defensive player period, you have to play with your eyes to make a lot of plays,” he said. “When you don’t play with great eyes, you miss out on plays, or you get beat. I’m just staying on myself, I’m studying, I’m being patient when I’m back there.”
Playing with your eyes translates to using your instincts and intelligence gained from hours of poring over game tape to discover the finer points of defending against the opposition’s passing game, as well as keying on the run. After a year in the league and almost a full offseason that will end after the mini-camp on Thursday, Adams believes he is now uniquely prepared to play the game at a higher level.
“I think the game kind of slowed down toward the end of last year for me,” he said. “It’s slowing down even more. I’m excited for it.”
The players will get more than a month off before the start of training camp, but Adams won’t get too much rest. By choice.
“It’s season time now,” he said. “There’s no point in taking a day off. Just go right back to work.”
He can’t wait to see how good his team will be.
“I think we’re jelling as a group,” he said of the Jets’ defense. “We just have to fix some things here and there and be more consistent. As long as we’re consistent, talking, playing with that swagger and energy, we’ll be pretty good. Everyone on the defense is starting to realize we can put something special together.”
If they are going to be special, then Adams himself will have to fit that description. Modeling his game after Polamalu, who made a name for himself with his speed, anticipation and tackling ability, is a good first step.
Now for the hard part: Becoming as good a player as the future Hall of Fame safety.