July 23, 2014

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Browns safety Mike Adams believes he’s a starter, wants to prove it

BEREA – Browns safety Mike Adams feels disrespected, and has for years.

He doesn’t understand while the coaches and general managers of his past – Mike Nolan in San Francisco and Romeo Crennel, Phil Savage and Eric Mangini in Cleveland – raved about his versatility yet refused to commit to him as a full-time starter.

He can’t agree with the media who portrayed safety as the Browns’ biggest need in the offseason, even though Adams was coming back.

He’s trying to prove wrong the Cleveland decision-makers who signed Usama Young from New Orleans on July 30 with the intention of making him the starter at free safety.

“This is my eighth year in the league, so don’t act surprised that I’m starting,” Adams said Monday after practice. “If ya’ll got any questions for the new guys, go check my film and see what I’ve been doing in the past. You guys will see that I’ve worked my butt off, and I think I deserve it and I’m gonna keep working my butt off to keep this spot.”

The safeties dominated the conversation Monday. Young and starting strong safety T.J. Ward practiced for the first time in weeks after suffering hamstring injuries.

They both did position drills, and Ward took a limited number of repetitions in team drills.

The mere presence of Young for the first time since Aug. 11 prompted discussion of who will start at free safety Week 1 against Cincinnati. Adams thinks he knows the answer.

“I welcome all challengers, and I compete every play day in, day out,” he said. “I’m not making it easy on any coaches to make a decision whether I will start or the next person will start.

“Unfortunately he got hurt. Right now, I’m the starter. That’s what it is, and that’s how I’m gonna approach Cincy. That’s how I’m gonna approach the next game after that, the next game after that until the coach makes a decision.”

Coach Pat Shurmur isn’t close to making a final choice. He saw Young practice for just a week before the injury and, with the team’s cautious approach to injuries, Young will miss the entire preseason.

“He is one of the guys that I need to learn more about,” Shurmur said. “The key thing for him is to get healthy and get out there. We can make our decisions after that.”

So until further notice, Adams is correct when he calls himself the starter.

“He is taking advantage of the extra reps that he has gotten,” Shurmur said. “He has played in there much like you would expect from a starter. I’ve learned that about him.

“I think he’s more in my mind than just a backup-type player right now. To me, until the other guys come back, he is our starter and he may still be.”

Adams has made 34 starts in 98 games. In four years with the Browns, it’s 16 starts in 60 games. He’s played both safety spots as well as cornerback and nickelback, but has never been viewed as the permanent answer.

He’s been primarily at free safety this year – his favorite position – but knows he could be used at nickelback if he and Young are considered among the team’s top five defensive backs. The versatility can be a blessing and a curse.

“If you do a whole lot of things good, it’s hard to do just one thing great,” he said. “And I think that’s where I get undervalued. I don’t want to say underappreciated because I think I’m appreciated because people respect the fact that I can do different things.”

Young has a similar background. He’s played corner and safety and started six games in four years with the Saints. He signed a three-year, $6 million deal with the Browns under the assumption he’d start, but might not get that chance for a while.

“I got to say, I’m frustrated by that,” he said. “At the same time, I know that it’s a long season and all I can do is get healthy and when I get the chance make some plays.

“You lose a lot when other guys are out there going through the dog days of training camp, but when it’s all said and done, I’m ready to bounce back. And as soon as I get to 100 percent, just go all out.”

Young called Monday’s return a “baby step” on his rehab but believes he’ll be fully recovered by the opener Sept. 11. Ward was extremely confident he’ll be ready for the Bengals, even if he misses the preseason finale Thursday in Chicago.

“We’re not going to be perfect, but we still have a week and a half of practice and the time we spent before I got injured we did pretty well, so I think we’ll be ready for that first game,” Ward said of the safeties. “Just between the three of us making sure our cohesion’s down, our communication’s good.”

Ward doesn’t want to get caught in the middle of the Adams-Young battle, but admitted he hasn’t worked enough with Young. He knows Adams from their time together last season.

“Mike’s an excellent player,” Ward said. “Whoever’s back there, I’ll be completely satisfied with.

“Mike’s a complete team player, he’s very vocal and he’s a vet. He’s a total professional, so you know he’s going to be prepared for whatever team we’re playing and he’s going to give you his 100 percent effort.”

And he’s going to speak his mind.

“Ever since I’ve been in the league, a team brought someone in to replace Mike Adams,” Adams said. “But it’s hard to replace Mike Adams. There’s not many Mike Adams in the league.

“You can’t just replace me, and whoever they bring in, my job is to make it hard for Coach Shurmur.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.