TAMPA — Bucs defensive end Gaines Adams made his NFL debut last year against one of the stoutest foes he'll face: Seahawks All-Pro tackle Walter Jones.
But Adams' most worthy adversary arguably was not Jones, or any other menacing 300-pound offensive lineman. It was Big Macs, and Adams admits that his fast-food diet prevented him from being in optimum shape during his rookie season.
"Oh, it was bad," Adams said of his former eating habits.
"I drive by all these McDonald's, and then I see Chick-fil-A. You just want to get a 12-piece (nuggets meal)."
For a fourth overall draft pick with a $46-million rookie contract, Adams continued to eat like a broke college kid, something he had recently been.
But the 24-year-old has overhauled his diet, all but eliminating his daily burger-joint runs. He also has rededicated himself to the weight room at the urging of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and others, and all involved believe the moves will pay dividends this season.
"Right now I've been working hard trying to get the fat down and turn it into muscle," Adams said. "At the same time, I'm trying to keep up my conditioning.
"I'm really trying to eat healthy, too. Before, I would go to McDonald's all the time. Now I've made up my mind. I go to Subway and get me a nice sub and go home and take a good nap and get ready for the next day."
Kiffin calls Adams one of the most dedicated participants in the offseason conditioning program. It's the only way Adams can live up to his coaches' considerable expectations.
Clearly, they are taking off the kid gloves for his sophomore season.
"He's got to get better and better, and he is," Kiffin said. "He has to break out this year. He's no rookie anymore. And I can see it out here. He's been around here a lot.
"He's been in the weight room. He's getting stronger, and he'll be stronger against the run. … I'm really pleased."
Adams is encouraged by his marked progress in remaking his physique.
No one would have mistaken him for a bodybuilder in 2007. Now he is visibly leaner, though his weight is about what it was last season, 255 pounds. He attributes that to increased muscle.
Adams' development last season was slower than the Bucs had hoped, but when he finally emerged, he was undeniably a force. He finished with six sacks despite starting just nine games, eight in the regular season and the playoff loss to the Giants.
What he and the coaches want now are more consistent performances.
Adams showed flashes of brilliance in 2007. He has made expanding his repertoire of moves a priority, using methods from boxing techniques to swimming-pool workouts to accomplish that.
"I've been trying to use my hands better and also trying to (synchronize) that with my hips to get by a tackle," he said. "I know now that I can't just run by them."
Especially if he's spending too much time under the golden arches.
"It's about staying disciplined and trying to eat the right things," Adams said. "It's okay to splurge a little bit. But you have to stay focused."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.