One of the biggest benefactors from playing in Jim Bates’ new defensive scheme is supposed to be defensive end Gaines Adams, the Buccaneers’ first-round pick in 2007. Since entering the league, Adams posted six sacks during his rookie season, but hit a wall during the second half of the 2008 campaign and finished last year with only 6.5 sacks and two interceptions – only a modest improvement over his 2007 production.
On Tuesday, new Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris discussed Adams and what he needs to do to live up to his expectations and reach his full potential.
“Gaines is about ready to reach his plateau,” Morris said after practice. “He started off his first eight games of the season fast, exciting, explosive – scoring touchdowns. We were all excited about him. He didn’t finish so fast – just like the rest of our team. Gaines is a part of that team and a part of finishing strong that we talked about in our first press conference.”
After Wednesday’s morning practice, Adams met with the media and acknowledged that he needs to work on his stamina this season in order to become the consistent pass rusher he wants to be and the team needs him to become. Adams played a key role the Bucs' hot 9-3 start, and also played a significant role in Tampa Bay’s season-ending four losses, finishing the last month of the season with only 13 tackles and one sack. He knows he has to improve in 2009.
“As an overall defense, we let up a little bit,” Adams said of last year's collapse in December when the defense surrendered 756 yards in the last four games. “As far as my standpoint, I just have to try to do the little things as far as the weight room to keep my endurance up and try to play all 16 games.”
Adams knows that Morris needs him to step up this year and he feels the pressure to live up to the lofty expectations that come with a person with his draft status.
“As a football player, we are all competitors,” Adams said. “When a coach comes up to you and says we have to do something better, obviously you have to step your game up.
“Being the fourth pick in the draft, there are high expectations for you, obviously. With Coach Bates, he’s going to help me get to those (double-digit) sacks.”
Reaching double-digit sacks is usually the calling card of upper echelon defensive ends in the NFL, and that’s where Adams wants to become. Bates’ system has helped produce double-digit-sacking defensive ends in Miami with Jason Taylor, Adewale Ogunleye and Trace Armstrong, in addition to Aaron Kampman in Green Bay and Elvis Dumervil in Denver.
“He does have that ability,” Bates said of Adams. “I'm looking forward to working with him. You never know until you get into the season in terms of what different things we'll do with Gaines Adams to hopefully help him. Experience helps in this league, especially in the defensive line play. It takes a while for some of them to grasp the game and get some different ways of rushing and not just being a speed guy. Sometimes guys are speed rushers in college and they get in this league and that doesn't work because the ball comes out too quickly. You have to have what we call some different pitches. If you only have a fastball you better look out because they're going to hit some home runs against you, so you have to have some change-ups, too."
Adams is working on his technique with defensive line coach Todd Wash, but also receives some special instruction from Bates in between drills.
“I’m just working on hand placement and being in the right place at the right time and just knowing the scheme,” Adams said. “He pulls me aside during break time and he teaches me little things that can help me with my game.
“I just to step in and do what those guys did. Obviously, I want to be one of those types of guys with 10 or more sacks. Obviously, I’m listening to Coach Bates. I’m still young and hopefully he can take me where I need to be.”
Bates has said that most defensive ends turn it on by third year in the NFL, which Adams is entering in the 2009 season. So far, he’s faced a steep learning curve from his Clemson days where he could simply out-race offensive tackles around the corner and use his athleticism to pile up the sacks in college.
“Being a football player and being drafted where I was at, I wanted to come in that first year and be the guy," Adams said. "Obviously as a defensive player you have to work your way into the system and learn. You are going against 10- or 12-year tackles.”
Adams said that he’ll still have the same rush lanes under Bates that he had in Monte Kiffin’s defense, but that in Bates’ scheme, which features more bump-and-run and man coverage, he’ll have that an extra second to get to the passer because the quarterback will have to hold on to the ball longer throwing against tighter coverage.
“I’m still playing the seven technique and the nine technique, things I was doing next year,” Adams said. “But this defense gives us a little more time to rush the passer. Coach Kiffin’s defense was a great defense, but this will give us a little more time to rush the passer and get things done (by) playing man and doing certain things that you can help the defensive line.”