When you think of Arkansas football during Bobby Petrino’s time as head coach, one of the very first names that comes to mind is wide receiver Joe Adams.
The Little Rock native was a human highlight reel in his four seasons in Fayetteville and personified the electric, high-octane offense that fans came to expect week-in and week-out.
Now, imagine a world where a freak athlete like Adams never had to leave the field, a la Colorado’s two-way star Travis Hunter. Pretty far-fetched and unbelievable, right?
Well, according to Adams, he could’ve made that a reality during his time with the Razorbacks.
In a recent appearance on “4th & 5” with Josh Throne, the pair talked about Adams’ time under Bobby Petrino and the topic shifted to how much the collective talent on those teams hindered individuals from getting showcased. That prompted Adams to air out a couple of his regrets from that time.
“I wish (Bobby Petrino) would’ve let me get the ball a little bit more, and I honestly wish he would’ve let me play a little DB,” Adams said. “I was the top DB coming out, so I went against Julio (Jones) and AJ Green and all those guys in the Under Armour camps, and I held my own.
“I feel like I could have done the same thing playing in the SEC, just on the other side of the ball. So, I probably would’ve been the Travis Hunter of that era.”
Envisioning Joe Adams as Travis Hunter
Travis Hunter took the college football world by storm this past season by playing as both a defensive back and wide receiver. Not only did Hunter play both ways, but he did so at an extremely high level.
Despite missing nearly a month of action due to a lacerated kidney, he finished the year with 31 tackles and three interceptions as a defensive back and 57 receptions for 721 yards and five touchdowns as a wide receiver.
Before his injury, there was serious hype behind him as a potential Heisman Trophy contender, with obvious comparisons to his head coach, Deion Sanders, and even 1997 Heisman winner Charles Woodson – arguably college football’s best two-way player ever.
Hunter’s success on both sides of the ball is a product of his game-breaking speed, athleticism and instincts. All qualities that were very apparent from Joe Adams during his time as a Razorback.
What most think as the signature play from Adams’ Arkansas career displayed all of those characteristics at once:
Now, imagine that speed and playmaking ability in the secondary, hounding the likes of Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr. and Alshon Jeffery. When you consider how much the Arkansas secondary struggled at times under Petrino, having another elite athlete like Adams certainly wouldn’t have hurt.
At the very least, it would’ve added another dynamic to an already must-watch on-field product.
However, it’s tough to say whether or not it would’ve been worth the toll it could take on a player. Toward the end of Adams’ collegiate career, he was already beginning to deal with nagging leg injuries. Having him play both ways likely would’ve had him even more banged up and could’ve kept him from seeing as much action as he did.
I don’t know if it would be wise to trade his highlight reel punt returns for a chance to see him as a defensive back.
Two-Way Players and Arkansas Football
One potential butterfly effect of a Joe Adams two-way collegiate career would be seeing more players of similar ilk to Quincey McAdoo.
McAdoo arrived in Fayetteville as part of the 2022 recruiting class, playing both wide receiver and defensive back at Clarendon High School. He was originally recruited to Arkansas as a wide receiver, but midway through his freshman season, he transitioned to defensive back.
He made an immediate impact on defense, despite limited reps at that position until the season, and earned Freshman All-SEC honors. Had a car accident not ended McAdoo’s time in Fayetteville prematurely, he would’ve been the closest thing to a “Swiss army knife” player that we’ve seen in quite a while.
A point that Adams and Throne acknowledged is how this view of two-way players can vary by coach. Throne mentioned how Petrino was less apt to move players around to showcase their ability at different positions. Similarly, Houston Nutt has a pretty incredible tree of former players who flourished in the NFL by playing different positions than what they had at Arkansas.
A few prime examples of this are how guys like Matt Jones, Jason Peters and George Wilson went on to have success in the NFL at positions they never really played at Arkansas. Jones had breakaway speed that made him a lethal dual-threat quarterback, as you can see below, but lacked the polish that a signal-caller needs to succeed in the NFL.
So, he went through the NFL Draft process as a wide receiver instead of quarterback and carved out a solid role with the Jacksonville Jaguars for four seasons. Jason Peters was originally recruited by Nutt as a defensive lineman, but was switched to tight end ahead of his sophomore season.
While he did have soft hands and had his fair share of clutch catches, he was known far more for his blocking ability than his receiving ability. In his senior year, he recorded more pancake blocks (61) than he did receptions (21). Ahead of the 2004 NFL Draft, Peters transitioned to offensive line.
Despite going undrafted in 2004, he’s been able to carve out a long and illustrious NFL career with the Bills, Eagles, Bears and Cowboys. The nine-time Pro Bowler is currently with the Seattle Seahawks and, at 41, became the oldest active player following Tom Brady’s retirement last year.
Similarly, George Wilson’s NFL career didn’t take off until he changed positions.
Wilson was a starter at wideout for three seasons in Fayetteville, leaving as the program’s second-leading receiver in history (behind Anthony Eubanks) and with the third-most yards and touchdowns in his career (behind Eubanks and Anthony Lucas).
After going undrafted, he spent three seasons on the Buffalo Bills’ practice squad, logging only three games played and failing to record a single catch. Then, ahead of the 2007 season, he switched to strong safety, despite having very limited experience. The switch paid off, though, as he went on to play eight seasons in the NFL as a regular contributor for the Bills and Titans.
Despite success stories like Jones, Wilson and Peters, football coaches are generally more in line with Nutt and Petrino. They tend to shy away from experimenting with players at different positions unless it’s necessary to do so.
Still, one can’t help but imagine how many other Razorback careers would have benefited from a position change or chance to play both ways. It’s a fun exercise envisioning Adams, one of the best athletes in Arkansas history, as a two-way player and pondering the success he likely could’ve had as a defensive back.
What to Expect from Bobby Petrino in 2024
While Bobby Petrino never let Joe Adams showcase his chops as a defensive back, he still had some glowing remarks about the former Arkansas football coach. Adams was also pretty candid about what current Razorback players should expect from Petrino heading into spring practices and next season.
“(He’s) a hard-nosed coach,” Adams said. “He’s going to make sure that he gets his quarterbacks and receivers together, to make sure they’re always on the same page. Make sure it’s a unit.”
Adams brought up how last season’s Arkansas team looked like it wasn’t rallying around each other and holding one another accountable, from what he was seeing on the field. He said that accountability was a big part of the reason Petrino’s teams were so successful during his first stint at Arkansas.
“It just didn’t look like those guys were really holding each other accountable all the time,” Adams said. “Not saying that they weren’t, I just didn’t see it on the field during the game.
“I think that was a big part of us winning. We held each other accountable. No matter if it was you blocking for someone else, knowing you’re not going to get the ball, or just whatever you had to do.”
Adams said that having Petrino in the locker room should improve that aspect of the team’s culture. He also talked about what to expect from Petrino’s offense and what makes him a good offensive mind.
“His offense is really a concept, so anybody can get the ball,” Adams said. “He can motion you across just to get you matched up with a linebacker, he’s good at getting you in position.”
Adams added that it’s on the players to push through the grueling offseason training and get themselves mentally prepared for the struggles during the season.
“(Petrino) is going to try to put you in a good position for you to win, but you have to put yourself in a good position before he can,” Adams said.
Arkansas football is in the midst of offseason training that is shaping up to make or break the Sam Pittman era. As spring practices are approaching, it’s just a matter of months until we get our first glimpse at who could emerge as the next game-breaking talents in Bobby Petrino’s highly anticipated new offense.
Check out the entirety of Joe Adam’s appearance on 4th & 5 here:
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