Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin was clearly energized by the Bucs' choice of Gaines Adams in the first round
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin somehow was even more effervescent than usual when he took the podium Saturday afternoon. There was a noticeable gleam in his eyes – and for good reason.
The Buccaneers had just selected arguably the best defensive player in the 2007 NFL Draft, Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams with their fourth overall pick.
For the franchise, Adams' selection marked the first time since 1976 that the team had taken the first defender in a draft. For Kiffin it represented something much more: a significant step in the return to form of a defense that, usually dominant, encountered its share of challenges in 2006.
"It is important to get pressure," Kiffin barked, elaborating on the team's philosophy in selecting Adams. "The quarterback steps up under center and looks over there and he kind of feels it. You used to feel that from the Bucs, and I don't feel like they were feeling it last year, the last couple of years. Gaines Adams brings that to our defense; he really does.
"[It's] his flexibility and his balance and his speed off the edge. If you're fast off the edge, then you can make your counter move. But if you can't beat somebody off the edge, you can never get to your counter move, so you've got to get the left or right tackle to open up and then you come back inside."
That's something that comes easily for Adams.
At 6-5 and 260 pounds, the cat-quick defensive lineman emerged as an elite pass rusher while at Clemson. Only the second Clemson player ever to earn first-team All-America honors, Adams tallied 28 sacks, the third-most in school history. He also finished his collegiate career with 44.5 tackles for losses and 66 quarterback pressures in 48 collegiate games. Along the way, he blocked two kicks, forced six fumbles, deflected 21 passes and returned three fumble recoveries for 85 yards and a touchdown.
"I'll say that he is a guy we think is the number-one defensive player in his draft," said Bucs Head Coach Jon Gruden. "There were some other players, honestly, that we would have loved to have had. But you only get to pick once, unfortunately. We got a guy that we think is an outstanding player and he has a chance to be a great pro football player. He'll fit in our scheme nicely, and I think he'll have the talent to upgrade our pass rush immediately."
A superior rusher off the edge with game-changing impact, Adams should provide considerable support to a Bucs defense that struggled to defend opposing quarterbacks last year. Not only did the Buccaneers D manage only 25 sacks – the second-lowest total in the league – it allowed opposing quarterbacks to finish the season with a collective 91.0 passer rating. To put that statistic into perspective, consider that only eight of the 32 quarterbacks in the league with at least 14 attempts per game last season finished with a rating of 91.0 or better. Furthermore, during the 2002 Super Bowl season when the Buccaneers defense was arguably at its best, opposing quarterbacks finished the season with an amazing rating of about 48.6.
That's the level of defense that Kiffin wants to see again his unit achieve, and he believes it starts with pressure, particularly pressure from a defensive end who has already demonstrated his effectiveness with a successful collegiate career.
"What I don't like," Kiffin explained, "is when people – and I'm talking in general – think, 'We ought to take this guy because he ran this time at the combine, because he bench pressed this and gosh, that 20-yard shuttle… and did you see his 10-yard time?' Let me tell you something. All that stuff is important, and all of these computer reports [are too]. But a computer has never made a tackle yet, has never made a sack or got pressure. All I want to know is what did he do on tape. Tape doesn't lie."
And what the Bucs scouts and coaches saw on Adams' tape was a football player who possesses the ability to flat-out seek and destroy, a speed rusher who Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Line Coach Larry Coyer terms a natural at what he does.
"As Coach Kiffin said, we can teach you how to play the run – you don't know about that, it's coaching," Coyer said. "We can teach you how to use your hands, teach you how to come off with control, we can stunt. But what you have to give us is pass rush; that's God-given. That's a fact in the National Football League, that you have to have a God-given ability to rush the passer. Once you have that ability, I think a coach can coach you and refine your skills. If you don't have that ability, I don't know if there's any coach who can coach you. There's no magic to pass rushing. Pass rushing is a God-given talent, feel, sense.
"A pass rusher has a sense. This kid has that sense, a feel. He's got an ability when to accelerate and how to counter. He knows how to speed up, slow down, make his moves in and out. The thing that separates him is his tenacity. He stays after it and stays after it and after it. And he makes long, chase plays. He will make plays a long way down the field. I think that he is special and his effort will make him great."
Gruden agreed, explaining how the Buccaneers narrowed a talented list of players and, in the end, wound up with their man.
"The pure pass rush separated Gaines Adams just a little bit," he said. "And it was a tough call. But again, we got a guy we really think has a tremendous upside and a great future as a pass rusher. And we need to improve our pass rush. I think we all know that."
Much of that burden, of course, will fall on Coyer, who with Adams at his disposal seems more than ready to embrace the challenge.
"The key is your ability as an individual and as a unit to put pressure on the quarterback," Coyer reiterated. "That's where Buc D has made its living, and that's where Buc D has got to go again. We've got to get back to being feared. When they see our guys get in that stance, they've got to feel us right then off the snap. And there has to be a sense of 'I can feel those freakin' guys coming.'"
It's a sense that all of the Bucs coaches believe will come around sooner rather than later for the Buccaneers defense, most especially because Gaines Adams is now a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.