“What my game is based on is explosion,” Adams said last week.
The best evidence came not when Adams put up career numbers last season with 111 catches -– one shy of the franchise single-season record -- 1,386 yards and 13 touchdowns and not even when he emerged as the Packers’ No. 1 receiver in 2016.
It showed in 2015, when after a promising rookie season Adams suffered an early-season ankle injury that all but ruined his second year. Although he missed only three games, his lack of burst and struggles to get off the line of scrimmage against press coverage -- one of the strong suits of his game -- hindered his performance. He finished with the lowest yards per catch (9.7) of his career.
That’s why the turf toe injury Adams suffered last week against the Philadelphia Eagles should be so concerning to the Packers. Whenever Adams returns -- whether it’s this Sunday at Dallas or more likely the following week against the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football -- chances are Adams will have to make adjustments to his game because of the sprained ligaments at the base of the big toe on his right foot.
Nationally renowned foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson, whose practice is based in Green Bay, determined that Adams did not need surgery, which means the injury was on the mild end of the turf-toe spectrum.
“While the more severe injuries require surgery to repair the tissue and restore stability to the joint, more mild injuries may respond well to conservative treatment,” ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell said. “In some cases, a supportive shank or plate will be inserted into the shoe to restrict motion at the joint when the athlete returns to play.”
Unless the Packers decided to sit Adams for multiple weeks, there’s a chance it will impact him even when he returns.
“Power with push-off -- and anything with explosive demands -- can be compromised by pain and instability, if present,” Bell said. “But even if those elements aren’t a factor, the restriction of something in the shoe can sometimes hinder that ability to dig the toe into the ground and push off.”
That’s a big part of Adams’ game.
There’s a reason he was picked last season by ESPN and Pro Football Focus as the NFL’s best receiver at the hitch -- a short route in which a receiver stops quickly and turns for the ball.
Adams sounded like he understood what impact a toe injury could have on his game. It was after he got hurt last week against the Eagles when Adams made the comment about his game being based on explosion and why -- in addition to the excruciating pain -- he could not finish the game.
Fellow Packers receiver Allen Lazard said he had a turf toe injury in college and called it “probably the worst injury to have” for a receiver.
“You can’t walk, you can’t run,” Lazard said. “You can’t do anything.”
Yet there was Adams this week doing a little bit of both. Although he did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday, he did some light jogging off to the side and was not seen wearing any kind of protective boot.
“Oh, for him? [It’s] probably nothing,” Lazard said. “He’s a freak athlete. He’s a hard worker. His releases in general, he probably could do the same thing with one leg. Don’t be surprised if you see him out there Sunday.”
There was a sense that Adams pushed himself too hard to play through the ankle injury in 2015. That was the year the Packers lost Jordy Nelson to a preseason knee injury.
“He’s one of those rare guys who just has that toughness about him and the ability to play through stuff,” Rodgers said this week. “I look at the ’15 season when he was playing on one leg most of the year. You kept trying to tell him, ‘Hey, take some plays off. Maybe take a week off.’ But he never wanted to; he wanted to be out there. It speaks a lot to his personal drive and expectations and toughness. Nothing would surprise me with [No.] 17, but hopefully it’s this week or next week.”
There’s perhaps more on the shoulders of Adams, the only established weapon among the receiver group. Behind him, the Packers have one drafted player (2018 fifth-round pick Marquez Valdes-Scantling), and the rest are former undrafted free agents (Lazard, Geronimo Allison and Darrius Shepherd), along with an aging group of tight ends (Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis). The Packers also could be without backup running back Jamaal Williams (concussion).
“I think we have a responsibility,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said when asked if part of his job is to protect players from themselves. “That’s why you rely on the medical professionals. And when they get cleared, then obviously those guys are competitors, they want to go. But you rely heavily on the medical professionals.”