By ROBERT STEWART
Tiger Rag Editor
Les Miles always brings up a special freshman when talking about his football team this offseason.
You might think I mean Leonard Fournette. Yes, Miles has been quick to praise the No. 1 recruit in the nation’s speed, size and strength.
But that’s not the guy I’m talking about.
Maybe it’s Malachi Dupre or Trey Quinn, LSU’s highly touted freshman receivers who are expected to fill big roles this season with a dearth of experience at the position. Or perhaps it’s Brandon Harris, who’s locked into a quarterback clash with sophomore Anthony Jennings.
Indeed, Miles has always mentioned them. But you’re on the wrong side of the ball.
If you said Clifton Garrett, you’re getting closer. Garrett is another five-star prospect whom Miles has said could have an immediate impact.
But that’s still not the right player. Think one level higher on defense.
If you said Jamal Adams, you nailed it.
It’s no surprise that the five-star safety from Carrollton, Texas is quickly turning heads in camp with his speed and understanding of the game. But based on the superlatives LSU coaches have tossed out so far, Adams may be set for a breakout season in 2014.
"Adams is … one of the more athletic, explosive athletes on our team,” Miles said at his Baton Rouge Rotary Club speech. "He’s going to get a great opportunity. Very bright guy.”
Everywhere you went in the first week of fall camp, Adams was there. He was always working with the varsity, displaying a combination of size and speed that will suit him well for the college game.
Adams stepped onto campus standing at 6-foot, 206 pounds. Even by modern size standards, that’s huge for such a young safety.
Compare that to LSU’s former All-American safety, LaRon Landry, who weighed 180 pounds as a freshman. Landry eventually bulked up to over 200 pounds, but he came in 20 pounds lighter as a freshman than Adams.
Adams already has the mass to take on Southeastern Conference wide receivers, which gives him a significant leg up on the competition.
Not lacking any confidence, Adams believes he can contribute right away, even in a safety group loaded with grizzled veterans and young talent.
"I feel like I can help that group of guys, but I’m definitely not going to rush anything,” Adams said. "I’m just going to keep working hard. My playing time is going to speak for myself on the field.”
LSU returns Jalen Mills, Corey Thompson, Ronald Martin and Rickey Jefferson, so Adams’ work is cut out for him to become a starter. He’ll also have to fight fellow freshman John Battle, whom has also been one of Miles’ favorite freshman talking points this offseason.
Adams said the speed of the college game hasn’t been too fast for him so far. If that’s the case, it won’t be long before he does crack the starting lineup.
"I feel like the speed hasn’t really affected me,” Adams said. "Everything is mental in college football, that I’ve found out since I’ve been here, just learning the checks, studying the playbook, getting better each and every day. Technique is everything.”
Playing as a true freshman is a tall task, but Adams doesn’t mind the uphill battle. He embraces it.
"We have a deep secondary, guys that can feed off each other,” Adams said. "Competition is everything. I love to compete, and whatever the coaches decide to do, that’s what we’re going to go with.”
Adams also said he’s looking up to guys like Martin, Thompson and Mills for on-the-field guidance. The more he can learn from them early in his career, the quicker he’ll see the field.
Even if Adams doesn’t become a starter, he could find himself in plenty of dime and nickel situations, particularly in John Chavis’ "Mustang” package, which employs six defensive backs.
Throw Adams in there and let him roam, and the young buck is bound to make a few plays.
"We can run ‘Mustang’ a lot,” Adams said. "‘Mustang’ is a package that gets a lot of DBs on the field that can cover, that can make plays. That ‘Mustang’ package can do a lot of threats to the offensive side of the ball.”
What’s probably working best for Adams so far, aside from his physical gifts, is his humility.
When asked about his playing time this year, Adams didn’t say he had to see the field immediately. He seemed ready to take his time learning the system before the coaches defined his role.
The more humble Adams can remain, and the harder he can work, the more the LSU coaches will trust him in big situations.
"I definitely want to make plays, but definitely want to just do my job, do whatever they ask me to do. If it’s special teams, I’ll do it. Anything. I have high expectations.”
Adams is a freshman and therefore unable to do interviews, so you won’t hear much from him off the field.
But expect to hear plenty from him on the field this season for LSU.
"He’s a very mature young man, mature beyond his age,” LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis said. "He has a lot of work to do, but we’re excited about him. He’s a guy that will play this year, there’s no question.”