TAMPA — While everyone around him carefully counts his sacks, Bucs defensive end Gaines Adams is finding the immense pressure on his broad shoulders is immeasurable.
Fair or not, this is what happens when you are drafted fourth overall in the NFL, as Adams was in 2007 out of Clemson.
The sacks are never enough. Quarterback pressure is never consistent enough. The game-changing plays can't come often enough.
And the scrutiny never ends.
"It just comes with the territory," said Adams, seemingly resigned to the fact. "When you're drafted that high, obviously people know who you are and they're really going to be watching you."
And that doesn't apply only to those buying tickets. The grand expectations — especially now that he's in Year 2 — also come from those cutting the checks.
"The kind of progress I'd like to see is what everybody talks about, reads about and can't get enough of, and that's the guy who's all over the field and makes you marvel at his play," coach Jon Gruden said. "I haven't seen enough of that personally, but that's the standard I have for him. I think when you have … a great talent, you have to really hold them to those standards. And Gaines is a great kid. He's doing some good things and has got a tremendous future.
"But I want him to be the best."
Standards that high don't leave much margin for error, which is why neither Adams nor anyone else associated with the Bucs will express satisfaction with his play in 2008. He has registered 51/2 sacks, fewer than the six he posted as a rookie in 2007 when he spent half the season coming off the bench. But more than sacks, the impact plays Gruden spoke of have been intermittent — though Adams' 45-yard interception-return touchdown at Chicago was one of this season's most thrilling highlights.
His coaches balance the criticism by asking for patience as he finds his way, but no one is going to grade a player with a $46-million contract on a curve.
As a result of the demands placed on him, it comes as little surprise that Adams, 25, has not always been successful in dealing with the heavy load.
"The big money is what brings the pressure," said Larry Coyer, assistant head coach and former defensive line coach. "That's to be expected, but there has to be some realism involved. I think he's frustrated right now. That's not good. You have to be at peace with what you've done. He just has to remember that he's a half-sack away from topping what he did last year."
As for Adams' expectations of himself, the plan for 2008 was to make strides as a run-stopper and diversify his repertoire of pass-rush moves. He believes he has made modest progress in each facet, but he, too, wants more.
"I still have a lot of room for improvement," he said. "I have to stay sharp. Every year has to be better, and you just have to keep working."
If he does that, Coyer said, he eventually will improve by leaps and bounds. That's something the Bucs would welcome given their uninspired pass rush. Despite having the league's ninth-ranked defense, the Bucs rank 18th in sacks with 28.
Adams is often judged using the Texans' Mario Williams, the first overall pick in 2006, as a benchmark. Williams went from meager to monster with 14 sacks in his second year, but Coyer stressed the stark size difference between the two (Adams is 258 pounds; Williams is 283). Judge Adams individually, Coyer said.
"What's going to happen is he's going to get stronger, he's awful fast, and he's willing to learn," Coyer said. "He is a better player this year than he was last year. The numbers don't show that, I know. But watch and you'll see that. I promise you this guy will be a Pro Bowl player.
"It's going to happen. I wouldn't lie to you."