GREEN BAY – In the Green Bay Packers’ training room this week, all the attention paid to wide receiver Davante Adams was on his right shoulder.
Adams is questionable with the injury, but all indications are he will play Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.
Over in Eagan, Minnesota, where the Vikings spent the week preparing for their Lambeau Field meeting with the Packers, the attention paid to Adams wasn’t on his shoulder; it was on his feet.
As cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mike Hughes and Mackensie Alexander prepared to face Adams, they undoubtedly spent a great deal of time breaking down his basketball-style crossover moves at the line of scrimmage, his shiftiness during his breaks and his avoidance techniques after the catch.
Opponents must devote time studying Adams’ feet because Adams studies his own obsessively.
“I think obsess is a good word to use,” Adams said.
On the iPad that Packers players carry around, Adams has downloaded video clips of some of the best receivers in the NFL so he can study their moves. He is in a constant state of discovery, hoping to find one more thing to give him an edge.
“I have cut-ups of the ABs (Antonio Brown) and Julios (Jones) and Odells (Beckham Jr.) to whoever else, just small things that I pick up on from watching guys play.
“Guys that may not even play much but they’ve got different gifts that I can take, a piece from him and a piece from him and kind of create a ‘Weapon X,’ is what I like to call it. You can always continue to grow, and that’s what I try to do.”
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One week into the NFL season, the football world is on notice that Adams intends to force his way into the upper echelon of receivers in the NFL. All through training camp, Adams went about his business making catch after catch after catch, some one-handed, some over his shoulder, some with a cornerback draped all over him.
Then, in a Week 1 victory over Chicago, he turned an 18-yard completion into a 51-yard jaunt from the left sideline to the middle of the field and a 3-yard completion in the flat into an ankle-breaking, shake-and-bake drive to the basket for a 12-yard touchdown.
Adams finished the 24-23 come-from-behind victory with five catches for 88 yards and a score, giving him a 17.6-yard completion average and a great start to the 2018 season.
Less than a year after signing a four-year, $59 million extension, the torch that passed from the hands of Sterling Sharpe to Robert Brooks to Antonio Freeman to Donald Driver to Greg Jennings to Jordy Nelson now belongs to Adams. After signing the deal on Dec. 30, he has embraced the responsibility that comes with being one of the highest-paid receivers in the league.
“It’s something I’m ready for and I think I’ve been showing that with the way I’ve been playing the last two years,” he said at the time. “(I’m) 100 percent ready for what comes with it and definitely ready to take on a bigger role in this offense.”
Once considered a mediocre practice player, Adams turned things around after a disappointing second season (in which he averaged 9.7 yards per catch and caught one touchdown pass), becoming one of the hardest-working players on the team. He took more practice reps than any other receiver during camp this year and broke off receptions of 48 and 27 yards in 15 exhibition-game snaps.
When it comes to working on his best attribute, which is breaking down cornerbacks with a shuffle of his feet, he is tireless.
During a recent interview, several plays Adams made during last season were brought to his attention to see if he could describe what he was thinking and what techniques he used to get open.
The first one was a third-down reception against the Dallas Cowboys that occurred with just over 2 minutes left in the second quarter. It was not one of the critical catches Adams would make later in the game, including the game-winning touchdown.
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As soon as the play was mentioned, Adams started scrolling furiously through his phone. Then, he pulled up a video of the play. It’s one of many he has documented.
Lined up wide right, the route called for him to break inside, stop, and then break flat to the sideline. The cornerback, Anthony Brown, had inside leverage and was trying to deny Adams the middle of the field, but Adams put such a hard move to the outside that Brown stepped that direction and let Adams come back inside.
Adams was wide open but because the route called for him to break back to the sideline he had to follow through with it.
“So, I do that and then I come this way (outside),” Adams said, demonstrating his move. “That's what gets him to jump over the top. So, I beat him on the first route and it probably would have been a better option to stay on the move. But I had to come back out because of the route.”
Brown was beaten so badly he had to circle to his left and come back to catch up with Adams. The kicker was that by beating Brown so badly, he put the cornerback in a better position to cover the outside move.
“It's kind of better to not beat them that bad on it,” Adams said.
The technique that Adams developed over the years at the line of scrimmage is not fundamentally sound. Adams takes a short hop to square his feet much like a point guard might do before he’s going to make a crossover move against a defender.
The hop step
The 6-1, 215-pound Adams said he was given a lot of freedom in college to develop his initial move because the coaches were more concerned about the route he ran and the time it took him to get to his intended spot. So, he started using the hop step.
“People generally are taught to not do that because people don't usually have the quickness to be able to jump and then not get caught in the air with a straight arm,” Adams said. “A Richard Sherman will reach in and catch you while you’re in the air.
“So, it's something that they try not to teach, but I just always felt that I was quicker, able to move a certain way and then see a guy shooting his arm and be able to get my cleats back into the ground and avoid. It's all reactionary.”
Adams said that when he entered the NFL, he found out he could get cut-ups of any player in the league. So, he asked the video people to send him cuts of Doug Baldwin, Stevie Johnson, Jones, Brown and Beckham.
He would also ask for receivers with the same kind of build as his to see what they were doing at the line. Adams ran the 40-yard dash in a pedestrian 4.56 seconds at the combine, but he had a 39½-inch vertical leap and so scouts knew he had explosiveness in his legs.
Even when he lines up opposite the best corners – like the Vikings’ Rhodes – he feels he can win at the line of scrimmage every time because of his footwork and explosiveness.
“You cannot teach natural confidence and swag like that,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “And when you see it, you realize if the guy ever figures it out, he can be a big-time player. And obviously Davante figured it out and has a great attitude and he’s been a great player for us.”
Adams said he has a plan for every route that he’s going to run, but reaction becomes a big part of how he wins. Once he makes his first move, he gets a better idea what his next one is going to be.
Mentally, he’s a salesman.
“It’s all about presentation,” he said. “To make you think that I'm really getting out there or I really want to, well, I first have to make myself think that I have to do that.
“If I really make it look like I need to get outside, as a corner you have to respect that. If I run a slant and you stop it then you're like, ‘Okay, great. I won.’ But what if I would have kept going?”