There is no shut-down mode for Jamal Adams. The Seahawks safety is always on.
“He can never sit and be idle,” said Clay Mack, Adams’ longtime personal trainer.
It’s the one thing — his high-intensity energy — that teammates and coaches point to most about Adams. It was apparent, and abundant, when he arrived in Seattle last year, and it’s consistent whether he’s chasing down a quarterback or studying film of an opposing offense.
“Always on 10,” Seahawks linebacker Jordyn Brooks said. “It’s not fake. It’s real energy. You’ve got to love a guy like that — always in a good mood, always smiling, always happy.”
The conundrum for Seahawks coaches has been, and continues to be, finding effective ways to harness that unrivaled energy and deploy Adams’ versatile skillset on the field.
Because he’s capable of doing so many things, Adams changes the complexion of a defense. With all due respect to Bobby Wagner — the best linebacker in franchise history and a future Hall of Famer — Adams might be the most important figure on Seattle’s defense, simply because what he does (or doesn’t do) has a domino effect on everyone else.
“Jamal Adams is a guy that we have to pay special attention to,” Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said last week, ahead of the Seahawks-Vikings game Sunday. “Obviously he’s a game-wrecker in a lot of different ways.”
Last year, the Seahawks traded a massive haul to the Jets to acquire Adams for a reason. Last month, they rewarded him with a record-setting contract for a reason.
“He’s a young man that’s just getting started,” Pete Carroll said in August after Adams signed his $70 million extension, the largest ever for an NFL safety. Carroll pointed to Adams’ toughness and his leadership and his spirit, and then a final, intangible quality perhaps singular to Adams.
“The juice he brings,” Carroll added, “is unique.”
“Blitz Boy,” they called him. In New York, it was intended as a sneering nickname, and it’s one that followed Adams to Seattle.
He has at times playfully mocked the moniker on social media, but mostly he says he blocks out.
“’Blitz Boy’? I’m not going to get mad at that,” he said. “For me, if people don’t — if everybody just likes you, something’s wrong. I’m not out here to be the most-liked guy. I’m here to play ball and win Super Bowls.”
Critics are quick to note Adams’ coverage ratings. Pro Football Focus, in fact, graded him quite low (53.1) in coverage last season, and at one point Adams got testy with a reporter when he was asked about his coverage.
In Adams’ defense, he did play through a series of significant injuries last season — a shoulder that needed to be surgically repaired early in the offseason; a groin injury that kept him out for four games; and two broken fingers that also needed to be surgically repaired. They were the first major injuries of his career, and Adams’ top priority this offseason was to get healthy.
Adams remained in Seattle for much of the offseason rehabbing, and then spent much of the early summer back home in the Dallas area to work with Mack, who specializes in training defensive backs. Though Adams is Mack’s most high-profile client, he trains dozens of high school, college and NFL players. Among his other clients is Seahawks rookie Tre Brown.
As they do every offseason, Adams and Mack went back to basics for their first one-on-one workouts: footwork, hip rotation, coverage angles. Then they dug into Seattle’s defense and worked on Adams’ specific assignments in various situations.
“We train different, and that’s a byproduct of his football IQ,” said Mack, who began working with Adams when Adams was in sixth grade. “I was surprised at how well he was able to regurgitate a defense that he’s only been in for a year. I would quiz him, and the conviction he had in his voice would tell me he knew exactly what he was doing.”
Going back to their first sessions together when Adams was a kid, Mack said Adams carried an underdog mentality. That hasn’t changed. “He always wanted to work,” Mack said.
No, Mack said, he didn’t sense any added motivation from Adams to prove anything in particular about his coverage ability this offseason. And Adams said as much this month when he was asked about the criticism of his coverage.
“I’m not out here to prove anybody wrong,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you will respect me. You know what I mean? When it’s all said and done, we’ll see who has the last laugh.”
Fact is, Adams is often most effective when he’s lined up in the box, close to the line of scrimmage. And he proved last year — when he led the Seahawks with 9 1/2 sacks, a record for an NFL defensive back — that he can be punishing when he comes off the edge on a blitz. He has the speed and agility to get around bigger linemen, and a good sense of timing at the snap.
Still, any blitz is a gamble for a defense, and that’s the rub for the Seahawks. When is the time right for Adams to cut loose off the edge? When do you let his natural aggressiveness take over? Or when do you ask him to back off?
Adams and Seattle coaches are still going through a feeling-out process in that regard, 14 games into his Seahawks career. Adams does have more freedom within the confines of his assignments, Carroll said last week, a sign of the coaches’ increasing trust in him.
That doesn’t mean every blitz will be effective.
Nine times Adams was used as a pass rusher in Sunday’s loss to the Titans. He was effectively shut out on all nine — finishing with no sacks, no QB hurries and no QB hits. Salt in the wound, he was hit with a roughing-the-passer penalty after officials ruled he was too late in hitting Ryan Tannehill.
Worse yet, Adams was over-aggressive on a run blitz in the third quarter and was blocked out of the play by Titans receiver A.J. Brown. That left Derrick Henry one-on-one against Seahawks cornerback Tre Flowers at the line of scrimmage; Henry easily bounced around him and broke free for a 60-yard touchdown that turned the game in the Titans’ favor.
It was only a week earlier, in the season-opening win over the Colts, that Adams showed the value of his blitzes. On one occasion, he blitzed and drew the attention of two blockers, which then freed up teammate Carlos Dunlap for a rather easy sack of Carson Wentz. Adams, certainly, did his job on that play.
Still, he hasn’t registered even an official QB pressure through two games, and scheming pass-rushing opportunities remains a work in progress.
Carroll did strike a hopeful tone when discussing Adams last week.
“He’s been aggressive, he’s been really going after it, just like we expect from him,” Carroll said. “You’re not going to be able to keep him down. We love what he’s doing … and he’s just an explosive play waiting to happen.”
Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. declined to talk specifically about Adams’ usage and the risk-reward considerations that go into the team’s game plans. That, Norton said, would reveal too much.
But it’s fair to expect that Adams won’t sit idle for long in the middle of the Seahawks defense.
“He’s continuing to grow … and he’s grown as far as being a well-round player,” Norton said. “There’s no question, there’s so much more that he’s going to be able to be able to give us over the years.”