TAMPA — Many fans may think of Gaines Adams as the Bucs' fourth overall draft pick in 2007 who failed to reach his promise as a dominating defensive end. But teammates and coaches remembered Adams on Sunday as a soft-spoken man with a bright smile whose full potential in life will never be realized.
"Man, this hurts," former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "… I talked to him a few weeks ago, and he seemed to be handling himself okay. He still was disappointed about the trade (to Chicago) but was trying to move forward with the Bears.
"Wow. Man, words can't describe how sad I am right now."
Adams, who was traded to the Bears in October in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2010 NFL draft, died early Sunday morning in Greenwood, S.C. He was 26.
"Today is a very tragic day for Gaines' family, friends and teammates," Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan said. "I still don't want to believe that it is true. I am deeply saddened that we have lost someone who I considered a friend for life."
Brooks said there was too much focus on Adams' lack of production as a football player and not enough on his promise as a man.
"Most people … they automatically remember and talk about what he didn't do in terms of football," Brooks said. "That's kind of sad, especially when you think about what's going on today.
"Clearly, he was much more than that to me. … He had plenty on his plate as the fourth pick in the draft. I tried to be a constant for him."
His former college coach at Clemson, Tommy Bowden, remembered Adams as a team leader who overcame a lot of adversity in his life and career.
"Gaines overcame a lot," Bowden said. "He played eight-man football in high school and overcame that. He didn't qualify out of high school and had to go to prep school and overcame that. He went to college and had to redshirt and overcame that. And he graduated in four years. …
"I remember sitting with his parents when he was thinking about coming out his junior year. He might have been a second- or third-round pick, or maybe even a late first-rounder if he entered the draft then. He's not from a wealthy family, and he could've made some money. But I sat down with his parents, and he made a very educated decision to stay in school. You like to see a guy get rewarded for that, and he did."
Adams struggled to develop an inside pass rush move while with the Bucs. Coach Raheem Morris said if Adams didn't post double-digit sack totals in 2009, he would be considered "a bust." Adams got off to a slow start, and after recording just one sack through three games this past season, he was traded to the Bears.
"Gaines will be missed by all of us, especially by his teammates in our locker room," Morris said. "He was a true team player and a positive influence to everyone he met. My prayers go out to his family."
Adams was looking forward to working more with Bears defensive line coach Rod Marinelli, who nearly drafted Adams as the head coach of the Lions in 2007.
"Obviously, it was going be hard for him," Brooks said. "I talked to him a few days after the trade, when he was in Chicago. He didn't know no one. … He was disappointed he wasn't playing the number of plays he was used to. But the longer he was there, he accepted his role and tried to move past his time with the Bucs. He was looking forward to the offseason."