Senior safety Jamar Adams began this season a contender for the Thorpe Award, given annually to the nation’s top defensive back. Experts ranked him the No. 2 safety entering the NFL Draft next year, while others thought he would lead the defense of a National Championship contender.
But that all changed quickly.
Against Appalachian State, Adams was caught out of position and couldn’t make a tackle on the touchdown pass that tied the score at 14. Later in the game, both he and cornerback Johnny Sears covered the same player, leaving a receiver wide open at the goalline. Had the receiver not dropped the pass, the lead would have been extended to 34-20.
But those mistakes were not because of Adams’s inadequacy at his position.
He spent most of the first game trying to position his teammates, distracting him from realizing his potential.
“I think sometimes a guy wants to be a leader,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “He gets focused on some things that detract from his ability to perform well at his position.”
In the season opener, it seemed Adams was giving out instructions before almost every play. The Charlotte native heard about it after the game, albeit from an unlikely source.
“My mom was like ‘You have to work with those young boys so they know what they’re doing before the play!’ ” Adams said. “It was funny when she called me because I was caught off-guard. My mom knows football a little bit, but it was weird to me that she knew that. I was like ‘Wow, that’s kind of impressive.’ “
Things improved for Adams in the second half of the first game. Fifth-year senior Brandent Englemon replaced sophomore Stevie Brown, who had struggled throughout the first half. With a veteran beside him, Adams could focus on just his job.
“It’s a difference,” Adams said. “It’s a senior guy out there who knows what he’s doing. He knows how to control his side of the field, and likewise with me. It’s great to have two guys back there who know exactly what they’re doing and have experience playing in games.”
Englemon hasn’t missed any significant time since halftime of the Appalachian State game. While he has played well, perhaps his most important contribution has been to allow Adams to play up to his potential.
Saturday, Adams was named Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week. He deflected five passes against Penn State, the second-most ever by a Michigan player (Marlin Jackson, deflected six in 2002). He broke up passes on the Nittany Lions’ final two downs and matched his career-high with eight tackles in the game.
Carr said Adams played the best game of his career Saturday, but the senior wouldn’t have heard that anyplace else. This season, he has stayed away from ESPN and the newspaper. In fact, he’s stayed away from almost everything and everyone.
“This year, it’s a different ballgame,” Adams said. “I try not to listen to the media, I try not to do the text messaging thing or answer phone calls, unless it’s somebody like my grandmother. She’s always going to say something pretty good.”