GREEN BAY – Mike Pettine is nothing if not brutally honest with his players.
Shortly after he was hired as the Packers' defensive coordinator last year, Pettine made it abundantly clear to Montravius Adams he wasn't overly impressed by what he'd seen early on from the second-year defensive lineman on the field.
Transparency that direct could have been soul-crushing, but Adams didn't take it that way. He didn't get frustrated or flustered, but rather used that criticism as motivation to prove "I am who I think I am" and still the player Green Bay felt he could become as a third-round pick out of Auburn in 2017.
A little more than a year later, Adams has his coordinator singing a much different tune.
"If I had to vote somebody or say who's most improved from a year ago, it would be Montravius," said Pettine on Monday.
"When I first got here and met him in the spring, my opinion wasn't real high, and he knows that. It was one where we challenged him and … 'Mont' has taken the challenge."
The challenge Pettine and defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery issued Adams was to mature both physically and mentally as a football player after a quiet rookie season that started with Adams breaking his foot early in training camp.
Adams stayed healthy in Year 2 and stepped up in the defensive line rotation, particularly down the stretch when he recorded a sack in Chicago and had a career-high seven tackles in the season finale against Detroit.
That still wasn't good enough for Adams, though. In his exit meeting with Montgomery, Adams said he wanted to shed a few pounds to help with his speed and quickness. Back home in Georgia, Adams and his longtime trainers put that plan into action.
The regimen called for running – a lot of running. During one of his training days, Adams would perform 10 200-meter sprints consecutively. He was given 40 seconds to complete each at the start, with a short break mixed in the middle, and then only 36 seconds for the final sprints.
It was hot and physically exhausting, but Pettine's words remained in the back of his head through each workout. He was building equity now to cash in once he returned to Green Bay.
"He pushed me to be better," Adams said. "He told me when I first got here, I was just doing it boom, one play, two plays. He was like, 'Our goal is trying to get you to do it three plays, then go to five and just keep going.' … Whatever I can do to get on the field, I was gonna do it."
After playing around 315 pounds last year, Adams says he reported back to training camp at around 298. Needless to say, the conditioning test was not an issue.
Montgomery was one of the first to notice the changes Adams made, playfully acknowledging how the 6-foot-3 defensive lineman "did what he said" in their first encounter last week.
While Pettine's praise of Adams has garnered the biggest headlines this week, similar comments have made the rounds inside the Packers' locker room all offseason regarding how far Adams has come in the span of a year.
Increased production has led to more opportunities, with Adams consistently lining up next to Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry with the first-team base defense through the 10-week offseason program and now the first week of camp.
"He's started to put it all together," offensive lineman Justin McCray said. "He's super athletic with super strong, long arms. He's pretty much what you want in a defensive lineman. I think now he's just playing with that confidence. He knows he can be a guy in this defense."
As far as X's and O's are concerned, Adams has been diligent in attacking the playbook dating back to last season when he'd be over at the house of fellow defensive lineman Tyler Lancaster studying plays.
Working with Montgomery, Adams has felt his fundamentals catch up with his natural athletic ability. Cupping his hands to illustrate his growth, Adams believes his third NFL season is about putting "another chunk of learning together."
If Pettine's words weren't enough motivation, Adams also has two young boys, a fiancée, his mom and three sisters who are all rooting for his success. That "extra boost" can be seen in every rep and individual drill he performs this next month.
Today, Pettine sees Adams as more than just a third-round pick vying for a role. He's now a player the Packers' defense is going to "depend on," setting up another challenge Adams is more than ready to tackle this season.
"I always look myself in the mirror. Always," Adams said. "Because I want to be the best in the NFL, and I want to be the best in this room. That's just the way I am. I know we've got guys like Kenny, Dean, James Looney, Kingsley Keke – guys who are going to come in and get better every day."