"The Wolverine," Adams said. "I just watched him all my career, especially when I was at the University of Delaware. I watched him play with the Eagles. (Brian) Dawkins was a great player."
Adams has worn No. 20 his entire career because of the respect he has for two men who have worn the same number and played the position: former Jacksonville Jaguar Donovin Darius and recently retired Bronco Brian Dawkins – The Wolverine.
Dawkins' retirement means that Adams doesn't have to find a new number, but he might have to get used to a new role.
The former Cleveland Brown was the first player the Broncos signed when free agency opened in March. When Dawkins announced his retirement a little more than a month later, Adams' role on the defense became more clear.
Dawkins was the leader of the defense in more than one way. He wasn't the only veteran All-Pro defensive back on the team, but cornerback Champ Bailey was often isolated to one side of the field. It was Dawkins who vocalized most of the commands to the rest of the unit, fired up the team before and during games, and even ranked third on the team in tackles after missing five weeks of action.
The void he left with his retirement isn't one that can be replaced with a draft pick.
Enter Adams, an eight-year veteran who started all 16 games last year for a Browns defense that finished second in the league in passing defense. He made 64 tackles and three interceptions on the year.
With most of the proven talent on the edges of the defense – Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil and Champ Bailey all play on the outside – it will come down to either Joe Mays or Mike Adams (or some of both) calling the shots. It's a heavy responsibility for a new player to have on his plate, but Adams seems to have the appetite for it.
"That's one thing I do take personally, the communication," Adams said. "Make sure I do the extra studying, the extra film work. Sometimes the corners are on an island and you're playing man-to-man all day. Sometimes it's hard to focus on when you play eight snaps of man and all of a sudden the coach says Cover-2. Now you've got to turn that man off and play Cover-2. That's my job, to make sure they know, 'Hey, we're going to play Cover-2, I need you to put your hands on them, I need you to do this, I need you do to that.'"
With Adams likely to play such a pivotal role in the defense, building chemistry with the other 10 men on the field with him holds the utmost importance during the remainder of the offseason. Watching and practicing against quarterback Peyton Manning and a receiver he's worked with in the past in Brandon Stokley, Adams aims to have the defense harmonizing similarly.
"(Manning and Stokley) got it down pat, whereas us on the back end at safety and corner, we're trying to get where they are," Adams said. "If Stokley is going up and he's running a stick route and the guy's on the inside, Peyton knows he's going out. He doesn't have to say anything. That's where we're trying to get on the back end with the safeties and the corners. I know that a slant is coming and I'm telling him, 'Jump that slant—if he runs anything other than that, I've got your back.' That's that trust factor that we all try to get right now."
All of the positions in the defense surrounding Adams are in a good position to improve from last year. The cornerbacks are deeper. The other safety – likely one of two second-year players in Quinton Carter or Rahim Moore – will no longer be rookies who never went through OTAs. The linebackers will be led by last year's Defensive Rookie of the Year Von Miller. And the defensive line added a free agent, two draft picks and two proven veterans who missed significant time last year due to injuries.
In other words, as Carter said, "We're capable of being great -- we've just got to keep working hard and maximize our talents."
Adams just wants to do his part by trying to play close to the level that Dawkins did.
"He (brought) great intensity, and I try to bring that much intensity when I play the game," Adams said.
"Hopefully I make him proud wearing that number."