AUBURN, Ala. — Montravius Adams probably didn’t need extra motivation to shine against Louisiana-Monroe, but Kevin Steele gave it to him anyway.
Before Auburn’s recent 58-7 drubbing of its overmatched Sun Belt opponent, Steele looked at his star defensive tackle in the locker room and asked him a rhetorical question about a special teams situation.
“I said, ‘You know if they do happen to get in a field goal alignment … do you really think there’s anybody in that locker room that can keep you from getting to the ball?'” Steele recalled Wednesday night.
Adams took his defensive coordinator’s words to heart.
In the second quarter of a game that was teetering on the edge of a blowout, the senior ripped through a double-team on the Louisiana-Monroe field goal unit and two-hand spiked an attempt back down to the turf.
Montravius Adams rips through a double team on special teams and swats down a field goal. He's an equal opportunity destroyer of lines. pic.twitter.com/E5dSgjp5nn
— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) October 2, 2016
Before his block, Adams recorded a first-quarter sack of ULM quarterback Garrett Smith, giving him 2.5 sacks and 4 tackles for loss on the season. He’s already matched his season total in sacks from 2015 and exceeded his tackle for loss count in just five games.
“He’s playing his best football right now,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said after the Tigers’ Week 5 victory.
Adams, along with junior defensive end Carl Lawson, decided to return to school for one more year in 2016 after flirting with the NFL draft. Both Adams and Lawson were 5-star recruits from a loaded 2013 class that made an immediate impact on an SEC championship team.
In the eyes of Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen — who hopes to find a way to slow down the senior tackle this Saturday — Adams would’ve been an early draft pick if he decided to make the jump this past offseason.
“(Auburn has) a great defensive front,” Mullen said this week. “No. 1 (Adams) for them, who would have easily been a first round draft pick for the last year, is back. To have a guy like that back, that sets the tone.”
By staying in school for another season, Adams has done nothing but boost his draft stock as the leader of a much-improved Auburn defense. He’s the heart and soul of a deep defensive line that is a constant presence in the faces of opposing quarterbacks.
Adams is the perfect representative of the Auburn defensive line in 2016. He’s looked stronger in both pass-rushing and run-stopping — he ranks second on the team in quarterback hurries behind Lawson — after further honing his athleticism during offseason camp under Steele.
“We challenged him in the spring with some things that he needed to improve on. He was a good player — very good player and very talented — but everybody can improve,” Steele said. “And we made a list of those things, in terms of pad leverage and use of hands and holding point and being effective in the pass rush and affecting the ball game.”
Adams has appeared to check off all the boxes for preseason preparation, as he’s been the most consistent presence this fall for Steele’s defense.
“Oh, he’s dominating,” sophomore linebacker Darrell Williams said last week. “That’s a big key for us, especially in the middle of that defense on the D-line. We’ve been needing him to play to his best, and he’s been doing that so far from the beginning of the year.”
But Adams’ dominance goes beyond the box score.
Even though he’s picked up his level of production over the last few weeks, Adams has a way of making things happen for the Auburn defense even if the play isn’t coming his way.
It’s a trait that makes Adams an even bigger impact player as Auburn returns to SEC play this weekend with a road game against Mississippi State (noon ET, SEC Network).
“He’s the kind of guy that can affect those around him both on the other side and our side by the way he plays,” Steele said. “When it’s not his tackle, he’s commanding double teams and making sure that they better keep two guys on him. If he doesn’t he’s going to affect where the ball carrier has to go, if not to the ground.”