Before rookie minicamp Friday, Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney talks about Joe Adams’ punt return touchdown against Tennessee.
After practice, Panthers coach Ron Rivera does.
“Ha-ha, that one got my attention, I’ll tell you that right now,” Rivera says.
Adams, whom the Panthers drafted in the fourth round out of Arkansas, stood on his 40-yard line last season, awaiting the Tennessee punt. The right sideline loomed. Adams had nowhere to go.
This is the kind of punt it was: Put up your hands and call for a fair catch and nobody gets hurt.
Adams, 5-foot-10 and 174 pounds, returned it anyway. He ran right, and then backward and then left and then spun and then ran right. He broke a tackle and another tackle and then two more and two after that.
Adams slipped a final tackle and inexplicably was free along the right sideline. This was less a return than a journey, and 18 seconds after Adams caught the ball, he scored.
“A lot of people bring it up,” Adams says Friday after the first day of rookie minicamp. “That probably was the craziest one I ever had.”
He adds: “I went home and watched highlights on ESPN, they had it on for a couple weeks. I was amazed at the things I did.”
The Panthers’ strategy on punts goes like this: catch ball, get tackled. The play is defensive rather than offensive, except to fans who like punt returns and think Carolina ought to try one.
The last Panthers regular-season punt return for a touchdown was in 2003. The last playoff punt return for a touchdown was 2006.
In alphabetical order I’ll list every dangerous punt return man in Panthers’ history: Smith, Steve.
Both the ’03 and ’06 touchdown returns were Smith’s.
As a senior last season, Adams returned four punts for touchdowns. He averaged 16.3 yards a return and won the inaugural Johnny Rodgers Award as college football’s best return man.
Adams returned punts on the Panthers’ practice field Friday.
“You see that quick little burst, that quick little side step,” says Rivera. “And you see that, hey, this could be potentially what we’re looking for and hopefully what we’ve got.”
Adams also played wide receiver and slot receiver at Arkansas.
I ask him to describe his work as a receiver to somebody who has never seen it.
“Kind of like DeSean Jackson” of the Philadelphia Eagles, says Adams. “In space, make guys miss. I’m a great receiver, too.”
“He’s confident,” says Hurney.
Yes he is.
Says Rivera: “He did a couple nice things running routes (Friday) as well. He’s got to work on that and refine it a little bit more. But once he does catch the ball in traffic, boy he’s got some quickness and can really make a nice little move. He’s got good speed but his quickness is what really shows.”
Adams has been clocked as slow as 4.55 seconds in the 40 and as fast as 4.42. I ask him what he runs the 40 in.
“My fastest is 4.25,” says Adams.
This would make him the fastest man in the league.
Despite his real or imagined speed, there’s a lack of urgency to his returns. Adams sees opponents charging at him and blockers set up and amidst the frenzy he calmly steps beneath the ball and with a quick step beats the first tackler.
The next thing you know, even if you don’t know it for 18 seconds, he scores.