DE Gaines Adams is as fast as ever, but he has broadened his game by working on every aspect of his technique
Gaines Adams says he came into the NFL as a one-trick pony, leaning on a single outstanding skill to try to make it in the league.
But Gaines Adams is wrong.
If you track the rapid evolution of this second-year Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end you'll realize that he actually displayed two great strengths in his first calendar year in the NFL. Perhaps more important than the top-level foot speed that made Adams the fourth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft has been his knack for unflinching self-analysis.
How many times have you seen a speed-oriented defensive end, even a veteran one, repeatedly spring off the line outside the offensive tackle and simply run around the back of the play trying to avoid the block? Adams started out that way but realized quickly that he couldn't stubbornly stick to his belief that simple speed and quick-twitch jumps at the line would make him into a star.
In fact, he started to see the light after his very first regular-season game.
"As you can see from last year, coming into this league I was just mainly a speed-rush guy and at the beginning it obviously wasn't working for me," Adams recalled. "[Opponents] have seen that. My first game it was coming up against [Seattle Seahawks tackle] Walter Jones, but it was a great experience for me. It seemed like every time I came off the ball he was right there. I just had to come with a counter move and as the season went on I got better at it."
The stats bear Adams out. He went five games without a sack to start his career, and had just 1.5 sacks after nine outings, with only three games in which he posted four or more tackles. Over the last seven contests, Adams racked up 4.5 sacks and had at least four tackles in five games. By the end of the year, he was the NFL's rookie sack leader with a total of six.
Adams improved because he not only recognized his deficiencies but sought out advice to begin erasing them. With consummate professionals like Chris Hovan, Kevin Carter and Greg Spires from which to glean career advice, it wasn't long until Adams was on a more promising career path.
"I leaned on Hovan, and Carter and those guys, the veteran guys," said the former Clemson star. "They were in my ear every day telling my things are going to get better, and fortunately they were right.
"It was very helpful. If I hadn't come on at the end of the season, I might be in the same little slump that I came into last season with. I am glad things worked out for me. I just have to come out and just start from day one and get it running."
Adams is actually well past day one. He began his preparations for a bigger second campaign early in his first full NFL offseason, focusing first on his diet in order to remake his body. Adams was far from out of shape as a rookie — he surely would have hit the "rookie wall" instead of coming on strong if he had a stamina issue — but he's learned how to redistribute his weight in order to be more effective as a big and fast athlete.
His knowledge of the NFL game and the Bucs' defense is also stronger, which is not surprising given his willingness to work on every aspect of his game. After being shepherded through his rookie season by team-oriented veteran linemates, he wants to show them their efforts was well worth it.
"I would say the main difference is I know the scheme a whole lot better," said Adams. "I am not guessing with the plays and I'm just knowing what to do when the situation comes up. You want to show those guys that you can play just as much as you want to show the coaches. You have to earn respect from the players and that comes from making plays."
But most of all Adams wants to prove that he is every bit the player the Buccaneers were hoping he would be when they made him the first defensive performer off the board during the '07 draft. Busts or minor disappointments are far from uncommon in the first round, even among the earliest picks. Adams could have been one, had he been unwilling to judge himself. Fortunately, he is far on the other end of that spectrum, and thus sure to be far from a bust, too.
"One thing with me is that I don't want anyone to say that I wasn't worth my fourth overall pick," said Adams. "So every day I come out and work hard and try to do the things that I need to do to improve my game. Obviously where I was drafted at, it comes with a lot of high expectations. At the beginning it wasn't going my way, but I just worked through it and things came out a little bit on top for me."