GREEN BAY – James Jones knew the kid had talent.
That much was obvious the first time the former Packers receiver ran routes and trained with Davante Adams prior to Adams’ freshman year at Fresno State.
The athleticism was off the charts. His footwork was uncanny. Given the kind of work ethic Adams displayed during their time together, Jones figured it was only a matter of time before the receiver was on everybody’s radar.
The 2016 season turned out to be the year the NFL took notice of Adams, who hauled in 75 catches for 997 yards and 12 touchdowns, second league-wide only to teammate Jordy Nelson.
The breakthrough came as little surprise to Jones. Fresh off signing with Oakland in May 2014, Jones sent a text message to Nelson immediately after the Packers drafted Adams in the second round, informing his former teammate of the kind of playmaker Green Bay was getting.
“I talked to Jordy and said, ‘The kid is special, man. Make sure you stay on Davante because the kid is special,’” recalled Jones last week during a conference call officially announcing his retirement from the NFL. “Last year, he showed that (but) I told him before this year he still has a lot more to show.”
Complacency hasn’t been an issue for the 24-year-old receiver. Want proof? While vacationing in Paris back in April, Adams posted a video on his Instagram account of him doing footwork drills on steps nearby the Eiffel Tower.
8,120 Likes, 119 Comments - Davante Adams (@taeadams) on Instagram: "Whereva!! :weary::weary::joy::joy: #HUSTLE"
Adams split his time between working out in his home state of California and training with his former Fresno State receivers coach Keith Williams, now an assistant at Nebraska and the mutual friend responsible for introducing Adams to Jones.
Adams has an emphasis going into every offseason. A year ago, he concentrated on weight training after a knee injury he sustained in a 2015 playoff game against Washington restricted his running early in the offseason.
One look at Adams would tell you his focus this year was on conditioning and cardio. He reported for training camp at about 206 pounds, down from around 220 a year ago.
When asked last month about it, Adams playfully pointed out there’s a “dumbbell difference” in how he feels coming off the line of scrimmage, and getting in and out of his breaks.
Now a week into the regular season, Adams is seeing the results on the field. The extra endurance also didn’t hurt when he played 67 of 82 offensive snaps in the Packers’ regular-season opener against the Seattle Seahawks.
“It’s something I definitely will be continuing to do throughout the rest of my career because I like the way my body feels,” Adams said. “I feel faster, I feel quicker and obviously more efficient with my footwork lighter.
“As long as you can be explosive and strong, there’s no reason to be super heavy unless you’re on the line and I’m not doing that. I like where I’m at right now.”
Adams believes the changes he’s made have helped him get on top of defensive backs easier this year and also stay on the field longer when the offense gets into rhythm on a 10- or 12-play drive.
The Packers are expecting big things from Adams entering his fourth NFL season. He’s viewed as one of several explosive playmakers powering Green Bay’s offense alongside Nelson, veteran Randall Cobb and Pro Bowl tight end Martellus Bennett.
Despite last year’s successes, Adams is still all-ears when it comes to honing his craft. He watches tape of a plethora of NFL receivers and has taken an open-minded approach to the individual teaching drills of Packers receivers coach Luke Getsy.
All summer, Adams could be found juggling during his off periods, catching bricks, and corralling ricocheting tennis balls off the walls of the Hutson Center in an effort to improve his hands and reactions.
“He continues to grow – if it's within the routes, the releases, taking some of the coaching that Luke's brought into us with our footwork, making us more efficient with what we're doing at the line and in and out of our breaks,” Nelson said.
“You can see him build confidence in that and with his ability; for how explosive and as quick as he is, if he continues to do that, he's very hard for someone to try to get their hands on.”
It’s safe to say Adams feels a great deal better going into this Sunday’s matchup against the Atlanta Falcons than during January’s NFC Championship Game, when he played on a sprained ankle he sustained a week earlier in the Packers’ divisional playoff game against Dallas. It was his only significant health issue all season, but it obviously came at the wrong time.
After a productive offseason and healthy training camp, Adams takes solace in the fact he’s done everything in his power to get his body ready for this year’s long haul.
“Obviously I played (in Atlanta, on the bad ankle) but it was nowhere I wanted it to be in terms of mobility,” he said. “You don’t take it for granted. You have those moments where you say I’m really happy I’m taking care of my body.”
Jones, now working as an analyst for NFL Network, had the opportunity to call Adams a teammate for one season in Green Bay, re-signing with the Packers in 2015 after Nelson sustained a season-ending knee injury during the preseason.
It was a trying year for Adams, whose route-running was challenged by ankle and knee injuries. While that 2015 campaign was Jones’ eighth and final season in Green Bay, he still sent Adams messages of encouragement during the receiver’s transformative 2016 campaign.
Now, Jones is expecting even more from Adams, whom he considers family.
“The kid is ridiculously athletic,” Jones said. “He has speed. He has size. His quickness off the line is probably the best in the National Football League. I tell him every day to show those people who you really are because he’s a special player.
“Being his big brother, I was extremely happy for him and seeing him take off with the year he had, but he has a lot of work to do and he knows that. I believe he’s going to have a better year this year.”