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‘Whatever they need me to do’: Tony Adams returning to safety as senior

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Adams talks about his new position and his trust in the team.

Illinois v Purdue Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Tony Adams has had some memorable and record-altering moments for the Illini. Last October, he had a late-game interception against Wisconsin that set up James McCourt’s game-winning field goal, bringing the Illini their most memorable win of the 2019 season. Shortly after that, Adams showed up again against Purdue, that time, with a pick-six.

Those were Adams days as a cornerback, which won’t live long now. Adams told the media Tuesday during a Zoom news conference that he is back to playing safety.

“It’s all good. I did it before you know, so it’s good being back there,” Adams said. “Being kind of like a general so it’s all good, allowing me to express my voice a little bit more.”

Adams wasn’t always confident at playing safety; he worried too much. But he’s not allowing those same feelings to roll over to this season.

“I feel like I’m more able to play with my instincts just because of the mere fact that I’m not the last line of defense,” Adams said. “I used to always panic at safety because I was always the last line of defense. I didn’t want to give up a touchdown, but you can’t play this game like that.”

Being versatile in switching positions comes with talent, a passion for the game, and knowing how to scan the field.

“I think it all comes from, it shows your love for the game. You know what I’m saying? Because if you played a lot of positions, you got to know a lot and got to diagnosis a lot. And I think throughout my career, I’ve been able to do that. So you know, it just speaks for my love. And again, I love it. You know I love I’m gonna do whatever they need me to do.”

Adams explained the biggest difference for him as a safety vs. a cornerback on the field.

“You’re kind of really on the island. You kind of know what you’re gonna get by formation splits alignment, safety, you just got to be ready for everything. And you got to make people right so I think that’s the biggest thing for me.”

Adams was asked about the younger guys who could potentially fill in his empty spot at cornerback, whether that be Marquez Beason or Devon Witherspoon. Adams didn’t seem like he could gather the words to express their talent levels.

“Y’all gonna see. Them boys, they really good. They really good.”

Working together as a team

A lot of this Illinois team has played with each other for a long time. The linebackers and defensive backs especially know each other well. That doesn’t mean years of experience together will improve the speed the team plays at, but it can improve the way they communicate with each other on the field.

“I don’t think that determines the speed we play. I think it determines more the trust, knowing who I am out there,” Adams said.”

“So say if I see something I could tell Nate [Hobbs], ‘Nate, I need you to cover me’ because I see something. So just knowing that you could trust somebody and knowing that Nate has the athletic ability or Sydney [Brown] or Devon or any one of them guys.

Knowing who you’re playing with, so if you if you see something, you got somebody that the cover your back, basically, that’s the biggest thing, having somebody you trust out there. So you can play off your instincts.”

And of course this 2020 season will be about more than just what’s on the field. Big Ten football just announced its plan of return last week. With new COVID-19 safety protocols and guidelines administered not only by the Big Ten but by the University of Illinois, this team will have to hold each other accountable on and off the field.

“Yeah, that’s the biggest thing. I know, Coach [Lovie] Smith preaches that to the older guys that we need to police the team, and just take accountability and take matters in our own hand with our own physician group, just keeping these guys away from everybody on campus and just trying to create a little bubble.”

This season means more for the veterans of the team that have been with Smith for all of the ups and downs the Illini have faced, something that the younger guys haven’t experienced, and explaining to them how crucial it is to have socially strict behavior might not be the easiest.

“I think that’s gonna be a challenge. Because you don’t know if the younger guys gonna take it as serious as you do. Because you don’t know if they see how special this team could be. But that’s for us to preach to them. And I believe we can get the job done for sure.”

It isn’t always easy to discipline your own teammates. Everyone doesn’t forget about each other when they walk off the field — they’ve built friendships. But with knowing how disciplined each player needs to be, Adams said they may need to push those friendships to the side.

“I think you got to take the friendship matter out of it. We are a team, we got goals, we need to get things done. And we can’t have anyone jeopardizing that right now. I know Coach Smith, everyday preaches it to us. But I think we need to enforce it a little bit more. And I think we will. We will.”