New Oregon WR coach Adams has coached that position every year of the last 18 seasons, starting in 2004 for three seasons at Montana St, then a year apiece at Prosser HS in Washington and FCS Chattanooga. He then had an eight-year stretch from 2009 to 2016 at FCS Eastern Washington (five seasons) and Boise St (three), two schools that produced a whole lot of future Pac-12 coaches and NFL players over that time. Adams then went to Western Kentucky for two seasons in 2017-18 before spending the last three years in Seattle staring in 2019. (Curiously, new Oregon RB coach Locklyn was at both Chattanooga and WKU too, but he and Adams don’t overlap at all and that appears to be a coincidence.)
Nobody in this industry gets hired by eight different coaches over 19 years at the same position without enjoying and being fairly competent at it. And if his last employer were any other school, it probably would have sufficed to leave it at that – I expect Adams to be at least a replacement-value coach for Oregon, with the possibility of developing another great NFL receiver. But that last school was Washington, and needs must when the devil drives.
I’ve been writing off-season and in-season previews of the Huskies for every year Adams coached there, including all the painstaking research for what would have been the 2020 game (which I’ve sometimes referred to as “the best story I never wrote”). It’s arguably the worst stretch of the post-Sarkisian era for wide receivers, though that’s not saying much, since outside of John Ross the Huskies never had very good WR play. Adams arrived at a chaotic time with one head coach unexpectedly quitting, another predictably getting fired, and a global pandemic in between.
Unlike the remarkable stability of the rest of the staff — almost every coach who came in with Petersen in 2014 lasted all eight years — WR coaching was quite a carousel in Seattle. Incoming WR coach Jamarcus Shepard will be the sixth in 10 years, with Adams coming in at the end and lasting the longest at three. The rest of the time the WR room saw a bunch of coaches who had been or would be fired – Eric Kiseau, Brent Pease, Bush Hamdan, and Matt Lubick. The playcallers Adams worked with, Hamdan and John Donovan, were in my opinion the least capable of any OC in his entire career and both were fired after two seasons. Reportedly, future head coach Jimmy Lake’s problematic tenure was causing locker room problems with Adams’ WR unit as early as 2019.
In both my 2019 and 2021 in-season previews of UW, I acknowledged fan theories that the WRs weren’t playing well — in particular because they were asking naturally built inside receivers to play outside due to some recruiting, injury, and transfer problems — but reserved most of my criticism those years for the QBs, o-line, and play design. (For an audio version of the argument I’ve consistently made that UW’s receiver room isn’t the problem with its offense, check out this summer 2021 podcast, the six-minute stretch starting at 43:17.)
All of which is to say that even though I’ve charted every one of Adams’ games at UW and would usually use those three years alone as the basis of an article such as this, I think it’s useful to go back and look at his previous stops at EWU, BSU, and WKU to consider the longer sweep of his career. I already had most of those games in my library for other projects, such as this write-up of Vernon Adams as he was transferring to Oregon in 2015, which brought back some interesting memories of his connection with future Super Bowl-winning receiver Cooper Kupp.
The conclusion I’ve reached is that Adams is a pretty good wide receivers coach and I see the same techniques in route-running, hand- and footwork, and the fight for extra yards at every school. I think that UW made some screwy decisions with its WR deployments during Adams’ tenure there, and while I have no way of knowing how much responsibility he had in those decisions as opposed to being orders from on top, it’s probably not zero and it’s not like he resigned in protest.
The most striking thing about Adams’ receivers is their consistently excellent hands in reeling in even somewhat inaccurate passes, which makes the rash of drops in 2019 such an anomaly. That issue doesn’t show up on the film at all before, and it gets fixed by the 2021 season (here’s a video from my article last year documenting that explosive passing was the only competitive thing about that offense), so I’ll spend some time below trying to figure it out. Otherwise, Adams’ career features a lot of standout receivers who can catch just about anything and win contested balls, and not just one guy at any given stop. Some examples:
- :00 – EWU had four receivers with 700+ yards in 2013, here’s the fourth of them in the FCS playoffs beating the corner, making the catch despite the obvious restriction on his right arm, and then throwing that dude to the ground en route to a touchdown.
- :19 – This is the Fiesta Bowl against the only team besides national champion Ohio St to beat Oregon in 2014. Good legal physical contact from the slot, then reaching back to catch a ball that’s thrown behind him.
- :34 – The receiver here is a transfer from TCU who I wasn’t real thrilled with in Ft Worth and got to WKU very late in his career, and Adams got a lot of improvement out him of in short order. This high catch in double coverage and surviving the hit that takes off his helmet was pretty impressive.
- :48 – Dumb play design forces both these receivers to slow up into coverage when they should be accelerating away from it, so this wobbly RPO throw is ahead of the receiver and he has to lunge for it, but pulls it in nicely.
The tape also shows consistently high quality route-running, with only a small handful of miscommunications in the nine seasons I reviewed. Even during UW years which were bumpy in other areas, I didn’t see any footwork problems and in fact did see quite a bit of advanced stuff like stutters and false steps to get the DB out of the way. Some examples:
- :00 – This is EWU’s second leading receiver, with a great outside step to move the safety then getting around the blocked throwing lane by the linebacker. Clean acceleration gets him 20 yards after catch without being touched, and an extra ten with a guy on his back.
- :17 – The receiver here caught the fourth most passes on the team this season, but it’s clear the QB has a lot of faith in him to let this ball go as the protection breaks down. He’s got the man coverage beat soundly and has to accelerate at the last second to catch an overthrown ball.
- :25 – Great double move here by BSU’s leading receiver, including the head fake that gets the Wazzu DB totally turned around.
- :41 – This out and up cut is so crisp that it gets Utah’s freshman 4-star flying the wrong way. A woefully underthrown ball from UW’s latest noodle-armed QB gives him a chance to recover and try a pass break-up, but the WR gets it secured and sends him crashing into another DB.
I also observe a lot of fight in Adams’ receivers to get extra yardage, and awareness of where the sticks are to get a 1st down. I don’t have any film of the “alligator arms” issue where receivers are afraid of contact and don’t lay out to get the ball, but instead see a lot of physical, even violent play after the catch. Some examples:
- :00 – The other safety is covering the H-back so Kupp doesn’t have anyone but the back judge to his left and could have run to the pylon, but instead he turns back into the DB to fight him the last six yards into the endzone.
- :09 – The receiver always knows where the line to gain is here – he keeps himself across it rather than crossing back to come to the ball, then when he’s forced back he fights it off to regain the 1st down. He takes quite a pounding here and had to be helped off the field, though he came back on the next drive and was productive the rest of the game.
- :29 – This receiver is fighting four tacklers to pick up five extra yards, turning what would have been a 3rd & medium into a 3rd & short (they picked it up with a run the next play).
- :39 – Great catch of a fastball here, with one of the best safeties the Pac-12 has produced in the last 10 years coming down hard onto him and forcing him to fight the last several yards to convert the 1st down with the game on the line.
So how can the grumbling about the Huskies’ receivers, particularly in 2019, be resolved? Some of it, I think, really is on the WRs’ performance – short-statured seniors who were built like inside receivers were asked to play outside and got punished for it, they had a hard time catching the rockets from QB Jacob Eason after four years of catching softballs from QB Jake Browning, and attempts at really aggressive play just weren’t working for this crew. Some examples:
- :00 – Here’s that same senior receiver as the last clip earlier in the same game. The ball’s a little ahead of him but he doesn’t have his hands up fast enough for Eason’s heater. He played 42 games (missing a few to injuries) in five years from 2015-19, and the first four of them he definitely wouldn’t have been handling this kind of velocity from Browning.
- :07 – This senior was the leading receiver in both 2018 and 2019, but despite that he never got on the same page with Eason. If he were a longer strider he might have made it to the sideline in time for this ball, it’s not a badly run route but that chemistry between QB and WR didn’t develop.
- :13 – I thought this was the Huskies’ most talented receiver by far (he’s since transferred to BYU) and if anyone should have caught a fastball thrown behind him on a crosser this is it. Instead it bounces off his chestplate and he sulks about it.
- :33 – We’ve seen Adams’ receivers successfully leaning into man coverage then breaking away to create separation before, but this WR doesn’t get it done and the CB is in range for a PBU.
However, as I wrote about quite a bit during the last three seasons, I think the rest of the Huskies’ passing offense, including both scheme and playcalling as well as QB and OL play, had a lot more to do with it. I have literally hundreds of examples of good WR play behind sabotaged by everyone else wearing purple on my tally sheets over the last three years, so many that I felt somewhat overwhelmed writing this section and had the computer select these clips at random:
- :00 – There’s no reason for this ball to be high on a comeback, if anything it should be low and away if it’s not on the numbers (I suspect it has something to do with the RT getting crushed, something that happens a lot with their unbelievably still-employed OL coach). The WR’s courage going up for it is admirable but he just doesn’t have the height to be playing outside and this throw nearly gets him broken in half.
- :07 – Gorgeous throw and remarkable catch for 20 yards. Too bad the Huskies were in 3rd & 26 on their goalline.
- :15 - I could write an entire article about how stupid this whole passing pattern is on the opponent’s 10-yard line, and in fact was prepared to had the 2020 UW-UO game not been canceled. Instead I will merely submit that this is excellent effort and concentration by the WR to pick up three yards.
- :32 – Nice moves by the receiver to mess with the corner without losing momentum and he’s got him beat by half a stride. This is easily a touchdown if the ball isn’t eight yards underthrown.