- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
It was one of the defining plays of Michigan State's season, and the Big Ten year as a whole.
Michigan had the ball on the Spartans' 9-yard line late in the fourth quarter, trailing by a touchdown and needing a yard on fourth down. Denard Robinson faked a handoff, dropped back -- and was immediately wrapped up and brought to the ground by Michigan State cornerback Johnny Adams.
If Robinson and the Wolverines were surprised, they shouldn't have been. Few teams successfully employ the corner blitz more than the Spartans, and few players are better at pulling it off than Adams.
"It's a lot of fun," Adams said. "A lot of corners don't really get to blitz, but in our system we get to do some different things and play a little free. I just thank my defensive coordinator for letting me come off the edge a couple times."
Pat Narduzzi and the rest of the Spartans are glad they still have Adams. The two-time All-Big Ten honoree explored his NFL draft options in the offseason, but decided to return for his senior year in East Lansing. He has a chance to be "a premier cornerback," head coach Mark Dantonio says, and should enter the year as the best in the Big Ten.
Adams wasn't a must-have type recruit out of high school in Akron. He was rated by most as a three-star prospect, and he had offers from schools like Illinois, Indiana and Syracuse. When Michigan State's coaches went to scout one of his games in person, Adams' team had the then-160-pounder lined up at defensive end, trying to shed some 250-pound offensive tackles.
"We wondered, what the heck are we getting ourselves into?" says Narduzzi, the Spartans' defensive coordinator.
But Adams fit the Michigan State style right away, starting a couple of games as a true freshman in 2008 before needing a medical redshirt for a shoulder injury the following year. The Spartans like their cornerbacks to mix things up, not just cover receivers, and that's something Adams enjoys.
"He plays with an attitude," Narduzzi said. "You've got to have that when you're pressing up on people just about every down."
Cornerbacks aren't always known as the world's best tacklers. But when Adams comes flying in off the edge on a blitz, quarterbacks have to be on their guard.
"Johnny's only about 170-something pounds, but he hits like a linebacker," safety Isaiah Lewis said. "He's not a punk. He'll go out there and hit anybody."
Adams had 51 tackles, three sacks, three interceptions and six passes defended last season, showing his all-around game.
"I want to be able to come up and support the run as well as cover downfield," he said. "Just be that overall player."
Michigan State also wants more leadership out of him as the most experienced player in the secondary, especially with safety Trenton Robinson moving on to the NFL. Adams isn't naturally vocal outside his clique, and doesn't always enjoy giving interviews, so it's a process. At a spring practice this month, he was given the privilege of addressing the team on the field before drills. Adams kept it short and sweet, using a Muhammad Ali quote to try and get his teammates fired up.
At least one early 2013 draft projection has Adams ranked as the top NFL cornerback prospect in the country.
"I definitely think I can be that level of player," he says.
Adams will be on every pro scout's radar this season. Opposing quarterbacks better know where he is at all times, too.