Adams not looking over chip on his shoulder

Mike Adams wasn't looking over his shoulder Monday at 49ers training camp, but he couldn't help but notice the new guy in the stall next to him in the team locker room – the same guy now breathing down his neck at free safety. Adams, however, isn't about to let veteran Mark Roman take away his starting job. "I don't plan on losing it," Adams said. "I'm not going to back down from no challenge."

Adams has held off every challenge to his starting position this spring after he established himself last year as one of the team's up-and-coming defensive backs while starting nine games at free safety and one at cornerback.

But Roman is a different challenge altogether. A seventh-year veteran, Roman started 31 of 32 games at safety the past two years with the Green Bay Packers and comes to San Francisco expecting no less than to do the same thing with the 49ers.

Adams says bring it on.

"There's always competition," he said. "I compete every day. It's fine. I've worked for everything I got. I plan on to keep working for things. I haven't been giving nothing my whole life."

Adams has a point there. Despite possessing NFL speed and putting up big production at the University of Delaware, Adams was bypassed by all 32 NFL teams in the 2004 draft. He signed with the 49ers as an undrafted rookie free agent, and managed to scratch and claw his way on to San Francisco's practice squad before his rookie NFL summer was over.

He worked his way onto the 53-man roster by midseason, making an impact at cornerback and on special teams while finishing with an interception and fumble recovery in spot duty. Last summer, Adams emerged as the team's nickel back coming out training camp, then was in the starting lineup at free safety by Week 4. He finished the season as one of San Francisco's top defensive players, tying cornerback Shawntae Spencer for the team lead with four interceptions and finishing fifth on the squad with 68 tackles.

There was some talk about moving Adams back to cornerback during the offseason, along with plenty of talk about the 49ers needing to upgrade at safety. But Adams still was standing as the starting free safety when the team practiced in pads Monday for the first time this year, holding off spring challenges from veterans Keith Lewis and Chad Williams and rookie draft picks Marcus Hudson and Vickiel Vaughn.

Whether or not he's the opening-day starter this year, the 49ers now view Adams as a safety and plan to keep developing him there.

"I believe he's a safety now and Mike will compete there," coach Mike Nolan said. "Mike's an emergency guy at corner, like he was last year, and he does a nice job for us. But right now, I know (safety) to be his better position. Unless we just get thin out here again as we did last year, he'll stay inside."

Now there is much more formidable competition inside than there was when training camp began. The 49ers immediately put Roman with the second unit at free safety and, though he can play both safety positions, the Niners intend to keep him at free to battle with Adams.

"It caught me by surprise a little bit," Adams said of the decision to bring in Roman. "But, hey, what can I say? I kind of see where (Nolan) is going with it. (Roman) brings leadership. We're all young back there. It's still going to be about who rises to the occasion. I'm going to go out there and finish doing what I was doing. It's not going to change anything. That's what we're all here for, to compete."

Roman played it straight during his first day as a 49er, declining to make any claims about coming in and grabbing the starting job.

But that's why Roman is here. He wanted out of Green Bay, finally getting his release late last week, because he did not feel the Packers were going to keep them as their starter after bringing in free agent Marquand Manuel during the offseason.

"Everybody in this league expects to be a starter," Roman said. "All I know is I'm here to compete and it's an opportunity for me to contribute. But I have motivation. Here, I'm in a new situation, and that's a challenge. Getting to know people, learning a new defense – it's all kind of a challenge. But it's a good challenge and it's a challenge I welcome. Because I don't want to be given anything."

Adams can relate to that. And so, a new battle for a key starting position begins in 49ers training camp.

To be sure, it will bring out the best in somebody.

"You're going to see what Mike Adams can bring to the table, and even more," Adams said.

Niners Digest Top Stories