Coming into the summer, the Bears wide receiver room featured some of the stiffest competition on the team. Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney were shoo-ins for the top-two spots, but after that Marquise Goodwin, Damiere Byrd, Dazz Newsome, Javon Wims, Riley Ridley and Anthony Miller were all fighting for relevance. Flash forward a few months however, and the landscape is different. Miller has been traded to Houston, and a new name has entered the conversation: Rodney Adams.
“He’s got speed,” Nagy said. “He’s got consistent hands. He’s learning the offense and he’s growing fast at that pace, like he’s understanding the conversions and what we do. And he cares. He cares. And he’s a great teammate. So he’s got a lot of strong qualities.”
Off the field, Rodney has needed to stay strong to have a shot in the NFL. In 2013, when he was just a freshman at Toledo, his mother died in a car accident. He then became the legal guardian for his 16-year-old brother, so he transferred to South Florida so he could be closer to his family. He played well there and was eventually selected by the Vikings in the fifth round of the 2017 draft. But when the Vikings reinstated Andrew Sendejo and claimed Mack Brown off of waivers in October of that year, Adams was waived and re-signed to the practice squad. He was only active for one game that season, per Pro Football Reference, and that remains the only game he’s ever been active for throughout his career.
In April 2018, now with the Colts’ practice squad, Adams suddenly decided to retire from football.
"I was battling demons," Adams told Larry Mayer of chicagobears.com. "I was going through a lot, trying to be strong for my family. But I cracked, I broke. I was battling a whole bunch of stuff. I just had to walk away from the game. You couldn't see it because I was always smiling, but everyone is battling something."
He went to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career, but just a couple of years later he wanted back in the game. Fortunately for Adams, the Colts were happy to have him and reinstated him in January 2020. He didn’t make the team however, and was waived in early August of that year. This is where the Bears come in. The same day the Bears announced Artie Burns was going on injured reserve with a torn ACL, they also announced they’d signed Adams.
Adams made it all the way through camp, but was cut as the Bears trimmed down to their 53-man roster. He made enough of an impression to earn a job on the practice squad however, and that’s where he spent the 2020 season.
Now with the calendar flipping to 2021, things seem to be turning around for Adams too. He’s put together a great camp, making splashy plays with both rookie quarterback Justin Fields and Andy Dalton. That play has translated in the Bears’ two preseason games too. But the cherry on top has to be his new daughter, Brexleigh, who was born the night before the second preseason game against the Bills.
“Given what I have gone through, just getting to this point is a huge, huge goal and accomplishment for me,” Adams said. “Stepping away for two seasons and then coming back and being at this part of camp and having the two games that I’ve had, it’s huge. I mean, I don’t want to say not a lot of people can do it, but at the same time not a lot of people are strong enough to stay the course, to get to this point. So I mean, I’m just blessed to be here. I’m just really blessed to be here.”
Adams’ coaches and teammates have noticed he isn’t taking this second chance at football for granted, too.
“He’s a really humble kid,” Nagy said. “He’s very appreciative of this opportunity. I think coach Furrey’s done a great job of developing him and giving him opportunities. To Rodney’s credit, he’s taken advantage of it and he’s had now back-to-back games, two phenomenal catches, special catches. You root for guys like that. He’s obviously, too, going through some things and just having a baby and not sleeping much. It just shows his resiliency but I like where he’s at.”
“Obviously he has a lot of talent,” said Robinson. “He was drafted into this league. Him being able to really improve and chisel away at some of the things that he did well and being able to fine-tune his game. He's the person that goes into work each and every day.”
When asked what gives him the strength to push through and continue to fight for a job in the NFL, Adams said it all comes back to his late mother.
“She would’ve wanted the world for me,” Adams said. “Just honoring her and fighting back— being back in the NFL. Her not being able to see me play college football and play down in the league, it’s all for her. So now she has to share that spot with Brexleigh, but just staying strong, you know?”
Now, that fight for a roster spot seems as real as ever. He’s put in the work and has done enough to put himself in the thick of the competition at wide receiver, alongside guys who have NFL gameday experience, like Wims and Ridley. But with final cuts fast approaching and his dream within reach again, Adams says he tries not to think about it.
“I'm trying to get 100% better every single day, I'm not thinking about 10 days ahead,” Adams said. “What's the challenge tomorrow? What's the challenge the next day? I'm not thinking 10 days ahead, I'm thinking what's going to happen tomorrow.”