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Bucs DE Gaines Adams finally feels like a pro

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LAKE BUENA VISTA — The directions seem simple enough. To get to the quarterback, all you have to do is go past the offensive tackle and take a left.

Sometimes the journey is more difficult. Sometimes you have to fight through the fog, through the darkness, through the depression. Sometimes you can get lost along the way.

Sometimes it takes a while before you arrive.

The eyes of Gaines Adams are clearer now. His footsteps are more certain. This year he seems to know where he is going, and after a season of doubt, he once again seems certain that he will get there.

"I can't explain how much better it is this training camp," said Adams, the Bucs' second-year defensive end. "As far as knowing the playbook, knowing the system, knowing what to do, it's 100 percent better. I'm so much more comfortable."

A year later, there is a difference to Adams. He is still whippet-thin, and he still looks more like a small forward than a pass-rusher. But the glazed look of a rookie is gone. No longer does Adams look like a player who is in over his head in expectations.

Finally, Adams looks like a pass-rusher.

Finally, he feels like one.

It wasn't like that a year ago, Adams admits. He was the fourth overall pick by the Bucs, who wasted no time in releasing incumbent Simeon Rice after Adams signed. He was an instant millionaire, and as a result, a lot of people expected him to be an instant star.

Instead, Adams struggled. He seemed unsure, hesitant. He admits he was confused, depressed.

"It was ridiculous," Adams says now. "I was playing so bad, it looked like I didn't even know how to play football. I can say that now because I can see that everything takes time and preparation.

"I knew pro football was hard, but I didn't know it was that hard. I was depressed. I was so disappointed in myself. I had been a guy who could get sacks whenever, and we were six games into the year and I didn't even have one. If it hadn't been for people like (linemates) Kevin Carter and Chris Hovan, I don't know what I would have done. They pulled me through."

The season was six games old before Adams finally recorded a sack, on a fairly meek play when all he had to do was reach down and touch Tennessee quarterback Vince Young, who had fallen before Adams got there. It was nine games old before Adams started a game. The questions were getting louder.

And then, just like that, a light seemed to come on. Just like that, the clarity of the position hit him.

It was past the midway point of last season and Ronde Barber was talking about the Bucs' defense. "Watch out for Gaines," he said at the time. "Finally, he gets it."

For Adams, the stretch run seemed to change everything. In the final seven regular-season games, he recorded four of his six sacks. In the playoff loss to the Giants, he had another.

"You could just see the change," Barber said. "He found out that we didn't care if he was a No. 1 draft pick. He had to turn the corner and be a professional and learn how to be a good player. The things he hadn't been getting, he was getting. When a guy that talented gets it, it shows."

It is amazing how it works. For months Adams had felt like a new student who had been thrust into a foreign-language class and was struggling to catch up. Suddenly he could understand what everyone was saying.

"It's just like a switch," said Adams, 25. "I don't know how you can practice one day and not have it, and the next day you feel like you've been there more than a year. It happened just like that. I was telling our rookie d-linemen the other day, no matter what happens, don't get discouraged the way I did."

If you ask, Adams thinks he should have gotten a C-plus grade for his second half last year.

His first half? An F.

The Bucs, of course, would like to believe that Adams will have a breakout year this year. As a team they had 33 sacks last year, not enough for a defense that built its reputation on making quarterbacks uncomfortable.

Adams says he has a number in his mind for his sack total this year, but he won't say it out loud. He says, however, that anything less than double digits would be a disappointment.

"I want to be a great player," he said. "I don't want to play for the money. I don't want to play for fame. I'd just as soon no one knew who I was. I want to play football because it's football."

And, yeah, that involves sacking the quarterback.

"I can't explain to you how that feels," he said. "It's like you're on top of the world, and 80,000 fans are screaming, and your teammates are celebrating."

Have you ever felt anything better, you ask him.

"One thing," Adams said.

Uh-oh. And that thing is …

"The birth of my son," Adams said of 3-year-old Gaines Adams V.

What? Did you think Adams was going to say something else? Yes, sacking the opposing quarterback is better than food, better than music, better than sex.

"It is," Adams said. "If I could go out and sack the quarterback every game, I would give up sex."

Adams laughed loudly, and the noise boomed off the small trailer room adjoining the Bucs' practice facility. It was a good sound, quick and strong. A year ago, not a lot of people heard it.

"We're expecting big things from him," Barber said. "We're expecting him to be our main source of pressure. Not to take anything away from the other guys, but he's the most talented rusher on the team. He's talented, he's fast, he's strong, and he has a high motor. That's enough for me to see that he should be a dominant player in the league."

In other words, here come the expectations again. On this defense, in this league, a player never gets away from them.

This time, perhaps Adams can run them down.

Bucs DE Gaines Adams finally feels like a pro 07/28/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 30, 2008 4:27pm]
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