Scott Fowler

What Panthers defense needs – experience, confidence, ball skills – Mike Adams brings

New Carolina Panthers safety Mike Adams, 36, says he wants his play to define him and not his age. He is expected to start at strong safety for the Panthers this season.
New Carolina Panthers safety Mike Adams, 36, says he wants his play to define him and not his age. He is expected to start at strong safety for the Panthers this season.

An NFL safety must brim with confidence, so let’s put new Carolina Panthers safety Mike Adams to the test.

OK, Mike, you went to Delaware, right? The Fighting Blue Hens? Better known as the school of Super Bowl-winning NFL quarterback Joe Flacco?

“Nah,” Adams said, laughing. “That’s not Joe Flacco’s school. That’s my school. I got there first. He came in after me. So it’s my school, and Flacco just went there.”

Now that’s the sort of thing you want to hear if you’re a Panthers fan. Adams is a little like Roman Harper 2.0 for the Panthers – just as smart and instinctive, a little bit older and, hopefully, a little better.

At 36, Adams is supposed to start at strong safety for the Panthers this season, allowing Kurt Coleman to use his natural ball skills at free safety. Adams’ journey to Charlotte has meandered through the NFL, including notable stops at Denver (he started for a Broncos team that lost a Super Bowl to Seattle) and Indianapolis (where he played in two Pro Bowls, following the 2014 and ’15 seasons).

Not many players make it to age 36 in the NFL, and most who do are quarterbacks or kickers. Adams doesn’t mind if you mention how old he is, though.

“I’m proud of my age – because I look damn good,” Adams said. “I’m still as fast as some of these young guys out there. And I’m making plays. It’s not like I’m just out there. I’m productive. I’m a leader.”

How is it that an undrafted free agent from a Division I-AA college is entering his 14th NFL season?

“I take care of my body and do a lot of the things that other people really don’t want to do,” Adams said. “I do yoga twice a week. I see the chiropractor. Cold tub. Hot tub. I don’t pound myself with weights in the offseason. I do push-ups and pull-ups. I do like a ‘Rocky’ workout. I run hills. I’m old-school.”

Adams got caught up in a youth movement at his most recent stop, in Indianapolis, and was allowed to leave along with several other older Colts. But his former head coach, Chuck Pagano, was very complimentary of Adams when The Observer’s Joseph Person caught up with Pagano shortly after Adams had signed with Carolina as a free agent in March.

“He’s a football junkie,” Pagano said of Adams. “He’s a guy you can count on week in and week out, and he played really good football for us. … He’s good in coverage, but he’s got some really good ball skills. He’s got really good instincts.”

Adams has an unusual early history, too. He grew up in New Jersey and attended a vocational high school, where he played football and also served as an apprentice plumber.

“Before I had money, when my toilet would overflow, that really came in handy,” Adams said.

Adams had interest from some larger schools, such as Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Oklahoma, but said in many cases he was always the “second guy” – the player those schools wanted to sign if their first choice didn’t commit. So he took an offer from Delaware, where he graduated with a degree and played well – but not well enough to get drafted.

Adams made the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted free agent in 2004, though, and went from there after three years to Cleveland (five years) to Denver (two years) to Indianapolis (three years).

“If fans don’t know me, tell them they will always see me around the ball,” Adams said. “I’m always running toward the ball, communicating – doing all the little things that matter. Kurt (Coleman) does that, too. It’s a good thing, having two safeties like that.”

I asked Adams about his favorite play as an NFL player. He chose his “pick-six” interception of New England’s Tom Brady in 2015.

“(Julian) Edelman went out for a pass,” Adams said. “He bobbled it, I snatched it and I took it in for the touchdown.”

The Panthers hope Adams has a few of those left in him for 2017. He said he does and that Coleman is working hard to school him on “The Panthers Way,” including the “Thieves Avenue” nickname the defensive backs gave themselves during the Super Bowl run of 2015.

“I’m 36, but I’m the one that’s got to fit in with them,” Adams said. “And I don’t have a problem with that. I’m looking forward to it. I can tell you after just watching our front seven for just a little while – we’re going to be a good defense. This looks like a playoff team to me.”