B/R Q&A: Jamal Adams on Becoming the NFL's Best Safety and the Jets' New Namath

Tyler Dunne @TyDunne NFL Features WriterAugust 7, 2018

New York Jets' Jamal Adams leaves the field after practice at the NFL football team's training camp in Florham Park, N.J., Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
B/R

EDGEWATER, N.J. — Sitting in the bathroom of an immaculate condo on the top floor of a building a Hail Mary's toss away from the Hudson River, Jamal Adams stares at himself in the mirror.

It's nearly midnight. A Warriors-Rockets playoff game streams live on a phone in front of him. But as his hair is chiseled, sculpted, perfected—an intricate procedure that requires laser focus by his barber—Adams rarely drifts away from his own reflection.

The Jets safety glares into his own fiery eyes.

Doing so provides Adams with every chance to backtrack, to retract his boldest of statements, to paint a more reserved portrait of himself than he does on his social media feeds. But he doesn't back away from anything. Face of the franchise? Bring it on. Talking smack? It's in his DNA. Slaying the dragon that is the Patriots? Very possible. Far from shying away, his rhetoric only sharpens as he goes. Because in Year 2, Adams plans on psychologically dismantling the opposition and, in the process, lifting the Jets into the playoffs.

The Super Bowl may not be too far off either, he says.

Just listen to his words, presented on their own merits in a B/R Q&A.

The more he talks, the more you believe him.

    

I. A Culture Shock

The Jets have been an abomination at worst, a laughingstock at best, for most of an entire generation. From Bill Belichick's infamous napkin to butt fumbles to Rex Ryan's circus to the team actually believing Christian Hackenberg was an NFL quarterback, the franchise is constantly discovering new ways to torment their fans. Very quickly last season, Adams experienced such incompetence up close, and very quickly, the rookie out of LSU tried to change it.

He danced. He screamed at opponents. His hits packed a punch.

The Jets only won five games, but they also lost six by a touchdown or less—and Adams saw the vibe change as the season progressed. He promises he's only getting started.

    

Bleacher Report: You're calling yourself "The President" on social media. What's the impetus for that?

Jamal Adams: "The President" came from college. A couple of my teammates, my friends, came up to me one day and were like, "What's up, Prez?" So I just came up with it.

     

B/R: You need to let people know who's in charge?

Adams: Yeah, for sure. Definitely. In charge. The head honcho. The guy who's going to do the right thing.

    

B/R: What should people expect this year? What do you want the entire NFL to know?

Adams: It's kind of like deja vu for me. My freshman year in college, I was on the field. Started. No picks. I got my hands on two picks and dropped them. And then I come back for my sophomore season and have five picks. So I feel like it's going to be deja vu. This is the breakout season for me.

    

B/R: What goes into changing the culture? You've been on a team that's been mostly terrible for decades, and you're a guy who wants to inject that losing culture with passion. How do you do that?

Adams: Just coming into the locker room, you realize the energy isn't there, and you have to bring it out of people. The veterans are more chill, calm, cool, collected. And you've got to bring in some young guys who are going to bring the juice to get them going, because they still got it but they're not used to it because it's not in the locker room.

          

B/R: Is it something you notice right away? I remember talking to Jared Goff this time last year, and he said that when he was at Cal and with the Rams, he sensed a losing culture. In college, as a freshman, he saw upperclassmen drinking after they lost by 30 points, and it's like, "What in the hell are you doing? We just lost by 30." What did you notice in New York where you're like, "I need to change this here"?

Adams: Everybody was used to losing. You can always tell that vibe. I came in, and it was like everybody wanted to do the bare minimum. They didn't want to go above and beyond. They didn't want to take that extra step. They didn't want to be uncomfortable, [but] to be great, you have to be uncomfortable. You have to be willing to sacrifice and willing to do the little things. And the team, the organization, just wasn't doing those things. It could've been two or three people on the team that were doing it and then the rest weren't or vice versa. But if you're not clicking on all cylinders with the 53-man roster, everybody upstairs, the staff, the whole organization, it's not going to go anywhere, man.

     

B/R: What does "bare minimum" look like behind the scenes? What startled you, surprised you last year in New York?

Adams: It's not necessarily what it looks like. It's more about the vibe. That sense of everybody getting used to it. Like, it hasn't been going good. People are not studying their plays. People aren't knowing the plays. People aren't knowing their assignments. We get paid to play a game. You think that people would be dedicated to their craft and actually study it and know it like the back of their hand. It just didn't happen on our team. It's the whole NFL. You have a lot of guys that make it but get comfortable. It's about having that mind-set that when you make it, you're just getting started.

    

B/R: How do you come in as a 21-year-old and take a cattle prod to that way of thinking?

Adams: When you have that mind-set—when you have that dog in you—it kind of rubs off on people. When they see you out there flying around the ball, talking a little trash and having that energy, they feed off it and they appreciate it, because people who know football appreciate how you play the game. ... I'm very passionate about what I do. I just want to be the best at what I do.

B/R: Are you seeing change? Or are there still guys in your locker room doing the bare minimum?

Adams: It's changed now. You can tell it's a different vibe.

   

B/R: You said last year that the field "is the perfect place to die." When you talk about this passion for the game, you have to have that attitude, right? What does that really mean—when you say you'd give anything for this game?

Adams: That statement was for passion—a passion and love for the game. I'm so driven, and I love what I do. It builds friendships, builds a brotherhood. It helps you in everyday life. Working as a team. Doing those little things to help the team get over that hump. That statement was just for the love and the passion.

   

B/R: I've run across a lot of players in the NFL who are really, really good at football but don't truly love football. Is that true on the inside?

Adams: Hands down. In a way, it's disturbing because a lot of people would die just to be in your position. Just get paid to play a sport. Just get paid to entertain on a football field. Entertain fans. Jersey sales. All of that. People would kill to be in our position, but a lot of people do take it for granted. It's sad, but it's life. It's not just football. It's life. People take life for granted. You have to be driven. You have to be passionate about what you do. I have a pet peeve: When I go to different jobs or eat at different restaurants—whatever—I walk in and someone has an attitude, it's like, "Yo! You picked what you're doing! There's no point in taking it out on the customers. You had one choice and decided what you were going to do." If you have to start somewhere, be happy where you're starting because you can always make your finish strong. A lot of people just aren't built like that.

    

B/R: As far as changing the culture, are you trying to have that "Richard Sherman effect"? Bringing that swagger like he did in Seattle?

Adams: He did bring that! He did start that whole vibe. It's huge for me, man. People are saying I'm the face of the franchise. I just want to do my job, and as long as I earn the respect of the locker room, that's what matters. ... Sherman's going to be Sherm, just like I'm going to be me. There's nothing wrong with a little trash talk. You just have to back it up.

B/R: Can you be the face of the franchise?

Adams: I believe so. I'll definitely take it on. If it presents itself, I'll definitely be that. Whatever the team needs me to do, I'll definitely do.

    

B/R: Being the face of the team, what does that mean to you? If you come out of this as the guy who changed everything for the Jets?

Adams: It was meant to be. It was in God's plans. That was my calling: to change the franchise.

                 

II. The Broadway Bully

Now that he's got the Jets on board, it's time to mentally devastate his opponents. To Adams, there's a beautiful science to this.

From Hebron (Texas) High School to LSU to the NFL, he's been yakking into the earholes of receivers. He's been "talking mad shit," as he puts it, because he considers everything between the whistles "war." His father, an NFL running back from 1985 to 1991, knew the dangers of any player at any level talking too much. So George Adams warned his son at a young age to be careful...but Jamal kept on talking. His goal? To break you.

The result is a magnetic leader whose impact can go beyond statistics. The 6'1", 213-pounder wants to be Richard Sherman, Deion Sanders, a larger-than-life figure who takes the league by storm.

        

B/R: How do you get inside of somebody's head? Everybody talks about doing that, but how is it done?

Adams: The majority of people aren't mentally tough, so you can keep talking noise and say whatever you want, and once they speak back, you've got 'em. And then when he starts forgetting his plays, forgetting his landmarks as far as running a route, as far as catching the ball, you got him. You're in his head.

    

B/R: When Cam Newton was doing his Superman dance, you stepped in. It seemed like a little thing. But are those the little things you have to do?

Adams: That's our home. That's our house. I don't want him celebrating on our field. He kind of took his time with the celebration and stood there for a minute. I felt that he needed to be done, and be done quick. You've got to go. He didn't like that obviously, but that's the mentality we've got to bring, man. It's "New Jack City" for us. A different vibe, a different era. We have to bring that swagger and that intensity.

    

B/R: Where did "New Jack City" come from?

Adams: That came from our DBs and our coach, Dennard Wilson. We came up with it. We're in New York. New Jack City was a hell of a movie. Those guys work together and always complete their mission. Having that swagger, having that energy, going out there being the baddest dudes on the field.

    

B/R: Breaking down an opponent mentally, is that something you adopted at an early age? When did you start that?

Adams: I've always been talking noise. I remember the first time I was talking noise, in Pop Warner, my Dad told me, "If you're going to talk noise, you better make sure you can back it up." So ever since then, I've always backed it up. I just ran with it. That's just part of my game. I like to talk noise. I like to make it interesting. I like to have one-on-one matchups and just go at it.

   

B/R: So what do you say to guys?

Adams: Really, I'm just waiting on it. Waiting for them to make a play. I say, "You haven't made a play all game."

    

B/R: Is there a receiver in the NFL you'd love to hit? Who's the one guy you'd love to get a good lick on?

Adams: I'd really love to get Odell (Beckham Jr.). That's my brother, but I definitely want to catch him. But he's a hell of a player, as everybody knows. I came in (to LSU) as soon as he left. As everybody knows, Odell is a different talent. Very passionate with what he does. You can only respect him on the field. But if I can get him, I'm definitely going to try to.

    

B/R: It is tough to get a hit on Odell, though.

Adams: He moves good. But if I can get him, I'm going to get him.

    

B/R: Is there a quarterback you'd love to pick off?

Adams: I want to get Brady before he's gone. I dropped one in the last game. Me and his receiver, it hit both of our hands, so I consider it a drop. But I really want to get Tom.

    

B/R: How long do you think he'll play?

Adams: I think he's the GOAT. I think he'll play forever. He can play until he's 50.

    

B/R: The tweet at Josh Allen. Is that part of the mental warfare?

Adams: Yeah, I know he's seen it. I know he's definitely seen it, so that means he's going to try me and I definitely want him to try me. I'm excited for this year. I'm itching for this year because a lot of people just don't know. They just don't know yet. I don't want to spoil the treats. I just can't wait.

    

B/R: What do you know that people don't know?

Adams: I'm confident in what I can do. People just don't realize the things I can do to change the game and make that huge impact for the Jets.

B/R: Can you be a bully in 2018?

Adams: You still can. You just have to be smarter on your approaches on tackles, on hits. Nowadays, it's not about the kill shots. It's about getting the ball-carrier down. So I think just changing up your game, it's going to be tough.

  

B/R: So you think it'll be difficult?

Adams: Let's be honest: It's turning into an offensive game.

   

B/R: What do you feel about that? I've talked to some defensive players, and they're borderline depressed about where the game is headed.

Adams: Obviously, we don't like where the game is headed. But at the end of the day, we've got to switch our game up. We have to go out there and perform. It's football. You have to go out there and not worry about different rule changes and complete the mission.

                    

III. Super Bowl dreaming

He's no household name. Not yet. So who is Jamal Adams? For one, he's got style. Adams loves "the art" of fashion. What you wear, he explains, is an extension of your personality. Hence, the 200 pairs of shoes in one of his bedrooms and this haircut that seems to never end.

He can bowl. Once, as a 10-year-old, Adams bowled a 275. Really. The proof is framed at his mother's house. Adams has already scouted out alleys in this neighborhood, too. Something about bowling—that release, that clash of the pins—relaxes his mind.

Scattered about his condo are enlarged portraits of Adams, as a Tiger and as a Jet. All are reminders that he can, and will, take over. When he does, the world will know Jamal Adams. It's not a matter of "if" to him. It's when.

And why not this season?

    

B/R: You've said that you dream of a Super Bowl, you dream of that scenario.

Adams: I strongly believe in my dreams. If we could honestly pull out a Super Bowl—not only for me as my goal and not only the team—but for New York...the city would go crazy if the Jets would win a Super Bowl. We haven't won one since Joe Namath. That's been a looonnnng time. Since the '60s. So if we could bring them a Super Bowl, it would just change the whole vibe of the city.

    

B/R: There really hasn't been a personality, a player, on this team willing to take charge like Joe Namath since Joe Namath. It's been a few decades, but he had an attitude and he guaranteed some things here.

Adams: He brought that swagger, man. He brought that leadership and that want-to to get it done. He was a player and a person; when he put his mind to it, he got it done. Nothing but respect for a legend like Joe Namath.

B/R: To get to that Super Bowl, you have to get through the Patriots. With Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots, do you need to develop a real hatred for the Evil Empire?

Adams: It's a hell of an organization. A great coach. They don't make mistakes. They force you to make mistakes. So you have to play all four quarters, if not five quarters, with those guys, and lock in. Obviously they've been leading the division for the past years. Hopefully we'll go out there and continue to work hard and we can make a change.

     

B/R: Can you "make a change," though? As long as Tom's out there…

Adams: Most definitely. Tom's a competitor. A huge one. He's a hell of a player and a future Hall of Famer. We just have to go out there and compete and focus for all four quarters on the little details the right way.

    

B/R: Could you have the best secondary in football this year?

Adams: I believe so. If we lock in and do the little things and come to practice and come to work every day and continue to get better and gel as a group, I think we have a chance to be in that race for the top secondary.

     

B/R: Is there a game you have circled on the calendar?

Adams: All of them. I don't really have a certain one. I have all of them circled right now.

     

B/R: Maybe you're not Joe Namath at the pool guaranteeing Super Bowls quite yet, but is there a bar you have for this team, this year?

Adams: The bar is high, obviously. We definitely want to make the playoffs. We want to change that and get there. We'll hold each other accountable and let the chips fall how they fall.

B/R: Is "Playoffs or Bust" a realistic expectation for this team?

Adams: For me—as I see the locker room, it being my second year—it would definitely hurt and it would definitely shock me with the talent we have to not make the playoffs. For sure. One-hundred percent. One-hundred percent.

    

B/R: Who is that tattooed on your leg?

Adams: Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali. Man, I got this right before the combine. I like art, and I like legendary things. Nelson definitely represents leadership and doing something different to help the world. So I always try to live by that as well. Ali is just that swagger, that confidence. Any time he's out there in the ring, when I'm out there on the field, I feel like I'm the best. So that's why I got these two guys and I'm not done with it.

    

B/R: A lot of guys would not want to take on the type of responsibility, of leadership, that you do. They'd hide from it.

Adams: A lot of people just don't want that pressure. It comes with a lot of things. It comes with a lot of pressure. Obviously, a lot of things will lean on me if we don't do well this year. But I'm OK with that. I'm OK with who I am. I'm OK with this organization. I'm very confident in this organization and very confident in myself. So whatever it is, I'll definitely take the blame. I'm just confident, man. I'm really, really confident in this team.

    

B/R: Have you always been that way?

Adams: For sure. You definitely have to be confident in yourself. Period.

    

B/R: Do you remember times, even as a kid, when you spoke something into existence?

Adams: I've been like that since I could talk, honestly.

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