Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye have been dreaming about making game-changing plays in the same secondary for a few years.
They’ll finally get that opportunity in the NFL as rookies with the New York Jets, who drafted the two hard-hitting safeties with their first two picks last week.
“I love it,” Adams said Friday on the first day of rookie minicamp. “Me and Marcus, we’ve always been close. We always wanted to play with each other.”
It nearly happened at the University of Florida, when Adams hit it off with Maye when he visited the campus in Gainesville. The fact that Joker Phillips, Adams’ godfather, was the Gators’ wide receivers coach appeared to make the decision an easy one.
But Adams got the feeling a coaching change was coming — and he was right. Will Muschamp was fired after the 2014 season, and Adams instead chose to play for Les Miles at LSU.
So, instead of joining Maye and the Gators, the two became friendly rivals in the Southeastern Conference, remaining in touch the last few years while debating whose secondary was better.
“We tried to get him to go to Florida, but that didn’t work out, so we had to go against each other for the past three years,” Maye said. “Just playing and competing against each other has been great. We’ve known each other since then and now that we’re on the same team, we’ve been talking since the draft.”
Adams and Maye will forever be linked as pros after the Jets selected safeties in the first and second rounds of the NFL draft for the first time in franchise history.
Adams was projected to go within the first three picks, but slid to the Jets at No. 6. General manager Mike Maccagnan acknowledged he was surprised to get a player considered by some to be the second-best defensive talent in the draft behind defensive end Myles Garrett, who went No. 1 overall to Cleveland.
With the Jets coming off a 5-11 season and having to address several needs, it seemed likely they would go after a cornerback, tight end, linebacker, running back, wide receiver — anything other than a safety.
But, with the 39th pick, New York drafted Maye, who didn’t participate in team drills Friday but said he is fully recovered from the broken arm that cut short his last season at Florida.
“I really didn’t think they were going to call, but once they did, I realized what they were trying to do to get the both of us,” Maye said.
“I feel like they tried to get the best two safeties in the draft,” Maye said. “And they did that.”
Maccagnan said Maye was the highest-rated player on their draft chart at the time their second-round pick came up, so they didn’t hesitate despite having already drafted a safety.
Adams was thrilled when he saw that New York had taken Maye, welcoming him to the Jets on Twitter: “It’s not even fair that we’re together…..Let’s ride bro, welcome home!”
An excited Maye responded : “Ahh man me and @TheAdams_era together…sheesh! #J.E.T.S.”
Just as they had always hoped, only a few years later than first expected.
“It’s going to be great,” Maye said. “I feel like the caliber of players we can be together is going to be good. We’ve just got to hit the ground running and take every day as an opportunity to get better.”
Both players were lauded for their leadership abilities before and after the draft, in addition to their football talents. With the Jets making lots of changes by cutting high-priced veterans during the offseason, it might not be long before Adams and Maye are establishing themselves as leaders in the pros.
“All I can do is just come in and earn the respect of the locker room, my teammates and the staff,” Adams said.
New York’s secondary, which struggled mightily last season, has been revamped. Cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Marcus Gilchrist were cut. The Jets also decided earlier this week to not pick up the fifth-year option on safety Calvin Pryor, meaning he can become a free agent after this season.
That leaves both Adams and Maye in good position to make immediate impacts as starters as rookies.
“Yeah, it’s feasible,” coach Todd Bowles said of that possibility. “It all depends on how fast they learn it, obviously staying healthy and how well they play.”
The Jets will be working both Adams and Maye at free and strong safety, with Bowles wanting his players to be interchangeable at the spots, especially with offenses changing schemes so frequently during games.
During individual drills, the two were paired, backpedaling step for step with each other. After they were done, the two chatted briefly, appearing to give each other pointers. Then, they lined up again together.
Just as the Jets hope to see for years to come.
“It’s a great opportunity for the both of us,” Maye said, “and I feel like we’ll do a great job together.”