Adams fitting in at safety

Adams fitting in at safety

CHAMPAIGN — Tony Adams started the season on the sideline, his hand in a cast. Just as the sophomore cornerback-turned-safety was starting to get into a rhythm in the Illinois secondary, he was back on the sideline with a hamstring injury suffered against Purdue on Oct. 13.

Fully healthy — again — Adams had the best game of his career during the Illini defense's best performance of the season in a 55-31 win last Saturday against Minnesota. Adams led the team with a career-high 10 tackles and also broke up a career-high three passes.

Those are numbers Adams would like to improve upon in Saturday's 11 a.m. kickoff at Nebraska. But, after also missing the last seven games of the 2017 season with a shoulder injury and most of his senior year of high school with a torn ACL, the Belleville native is simply happy to be on the field with his teammates.

"Some things you just can't control," Adams said. "It's all God's plan. Whatever he's got in store for me, I've just got to battle through it."

As good as Adams was against Minnesota, he saw room for improvement after watching film with Illinois coach/defensive coordinator Lovie Smith and safeties coach Gill Byrd. Like a pass breakup at the goal line late in the second quarter that could have resulted in an interception.

"Pick and then trying to crib it," Adams said of that play. "Watching film, I've got to read the quarterback faster. Little things like that and believe in what I see and trust in what my coaches teach me."

Adams at safety alongside freshman Sydney Brown is a move Smith made during the Illinois bye week after the Illini defense was gouged by both South Florida and Penn State for a combined 1,217 yards. Adams' hamstring injury has meant they haven't played all that much together since starting next to each other against Rutgers.

"We're different having a player like him back in the back," Smith said of Adams. "When you say free safety, if things go wrong up front, he's our last big front of defense from the goal line. Tony did an excellent job with that (against Minnesota)."

Adams and Brown like their pairing at safety.

"I love it because I know Sydney's going to play hard every play," Adams said. "I know he's going to fly to the ball and is going to make plays. That just makes my job easier. If I know somebody is going to give 110 percent every time, I've got to do that, too. I've got to match his intensity."

"You saw up against Minnesota it did help with Tony out there," Brown added. "He has been struggling with injury, but he's been working hard trying to get back out there. I'm excited to have Tony back."

The move from cornerback was actually easier for Adams than playing cornerback last season as a freshman. He was a safety in high school playing for Gary Kornfeld at St. Louis University High School and already had a comfort level at the position.

Adjusting to the speed of playing safety in the Big Ten was the challenge. And dealing with bigger running backs.

"You've got to come downhill with bad intentions because if you don't they're going to show you," Adams said.

Adams isn't much interested in a repeat of Illinois' defensive performance against Minnesota when the Illini travel to Nebraska. He wants more.

"I feel like we've got to play better — to a higher level — because Nebraska is coming off a tough loss to Ohio State," he said. "They're going to be out there playing hard. We've just got to play harder and more physical."