Like many gifted athletes, Johnny Adams came to Michigan State relying on his natural ability.
His skills helped him crack the starting lineup for two games as a true freshman in 2008. After missing most of the 2009 season with a shoulder injury, Adams earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last fall, recording three interceptions, seven pass breakups and 50 tackles for a much-improved Spartans secondary.
Intent on taking the next step, Adams accelerated his learning curve during the winter, spring and summer. Arguably no Michigan State player has made more strides during the offseason than the 5-foor-11, 175-pound junior.
"The biggest thing is trying to know my opponents more, instead of me going through the motions," he said. "In the spring, every week I studied [Michigan State's] offense, and it took my game to another level."
Adams stood out throughout the spring and was the first player selected by the team's seniors in the draft for the spring game. He has continued to make a difference in preseason camp, intercepting a Kirk Cousins pass and returning it 32 yards for a touchdown to close out Sunday's jersey scrimmage, won by the defense.
In 2010, Michigan State's secondary subscribed to the M.A.P. motto -- Make A Play -- and combined for 12 of the team's 17 interceptions to go with four forced fumbles. Adams did his part (three interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovered), but he feels he has a much better grasp on formations and quarterback tendencies heading into this season.
"It's going to help a lot," he said, "because if you know what somebody's going to do, it can definitely cancel out some of the things you would want to do. You can make smarter gambles, smarter decisions. I was more of a cautious guy in the past because I didn't know what was coming at me at the time.
"Now when you study film and you look at personnel and formations and what people like you do, you can take an educated guess on what's coming."
Michigan State loses its top cornerback in Chris L. Rucker, a sixth-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in April. Rucker and Spartans secondary coach Harlon Barnett both told Adams after last season that if he wanted to take his game to another level, he had to know his opponents better.
"It's not off of just raw talent," Adams said. "It's what you know, and how you approach the game. I started approaching the game different."
Adams soon will start breaking down film of opposing receivers. He expects to mark No. 1 wideouts this season and has been preparing by practicing against B.J. Cunningham, Michigan State's top returning receiver.
"We made a lot of plays last year," Adams said. "Now we want to take our plays to another level. If we [used to] get a pick, now we want to get a pick-six."