Tampa Bay rookie defensive end Gaines Adams took one step closer to making his debut on an NFL football field when the first-round draft selection was introduced as a Buccaneer in a press conference held at One Buccaneer Place on Monday.

“I’m excited to be here,” Adams said. “I’m ready to get on the field. Like Coach Gruden said, I’m going to lead the league in effort and play my hardest. I’m excited to be a Buccaneer.”

The last time Tampa Bay used a first-round pick to select a defensive end was when it drafted Regan Upshaw in 1996. Saturday also marked the first time since 1999 that the Buccaneers had used a first-round draft pick to select a defensive player, with defensive tackle Anthony McFarland being the last first-round selection on that side of the ball.

Dating back to 1997, Tampa Bay’s defense had finished nine straight seasons ranked in the top 10 overall. However, last season, age and a lack of depth took its toll on the defense, which finished ranked 17th overall.

Although the defense’s play slipped last year, its standards are still high. Adams, who grew up a Bucs fan and in awe of defensive end Simeon Rice, realizes he must come in and follow in the footsteps of defensive superstars like Rice, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, among others.

“The tradition of the defense, they’ve had some great players before, and they’ve got some now,” said Adams. “I’m glad that I’m a part of this family, and hopefully I’m going to continue the legacy.”

Last year, Tampa Bay’s defensive linemen accounted for just 19 sacks. That lack of pass rush and pressure contributed to the Bucs’ decision to draft Adams, who made life tough for opposing quarterbacks in college.

The 6-foot-6, 258-pound Adams ran an impressive 4.68 40-yard dash at the Combine. He used that agility and speed to record 168 tackles and 28 career sacks during his career at Clemson.

“He’s got great upside,” said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. “You pick up any game film from his previous season at Clemson, and you see a guy who has a chance to be a tremendous pro football player.

“He’s a humble guy. He’s a quiet guy, but he’s a heck of a player. We think he can be a leader on our squad and a guy who can be a cornerstone of our defense for years to come.”

Adams is indeed quiet and composed. In fact, some questioned why he didn’t seem more excited when the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the Bucs had selected him.

According to Adams, he was simply at a loss for words.  

 “I was really trying to hold back the tears,’ Adams said when describing his reaction to being drafted by the Bucs. “I was so excited. Just seeing all of the cameras and all of the people, it was like, ‘Am I really here?’ I know a lot of people said , but I was so excited. I couldn’t believe with me coming from my background that it was really happening. So, I was just like, ‘I did it.’”

Adams had plenty of reasons to be proud of his accomplishment. He played wide receiver and defensive end in eight-man football at Fork Union Prep School/Cambridge-Academy and worked his way up from a backup player to a dominating starter at Clemson.

How does he balance being such a humble and quiet person off the field and such an explosive, relentless and speedy defensive end on it?

‘I’m motivated,” said Adams. “I love playing football. On the field I’m a hard worker and off the field I’m a gentleman.”

Although he credits his parents with raising him well and being supportive of him as he grew up, his mother didn’t necessarily support his decision to pick football over basketball.

How exactly did he break that news to one of the authority figures in his household?

“I put my foot down and told her I wanted to play football,” said Adams. “That was one of the few times I did that.”

And now that Adams has become a Tampa Bay Buccaneer with the fourth overall pick in the draft?

“She feels good about it now,” said Adams.

Adams has spent the past two days thinking about a lot of things, but his humility hasn’t allowed him to think about how he has basically become a millionaire overnight, or at least not yet.

Instead of thinking about money, Adams said he is focused on football because he knows he can take care of his parents, their adopted twins and his own 2-year old son.

“I haven’t thought about the money,” said Adams. “I guess that comes with the game, but I’m a humble guy. I don’t really think about that. Fortunately I’m able to take care of my family now, but I don’t think about that.”

Adams is determined not to let the money that comes with being a professional athlete distract him from the task at hand. In fact, Adams went as far as saying he would not be a hold out for training camp when it begins on July 26.

“I’m going to be there on time,” said Adams.

Adams is also hoping to shed more positive light on his image and name. He fears it might have taken a hit when a Pro Football Weekly report earlier this month announced that Adams and two other top 10 prospects had admitted in a private interview with scouts they had experimented with marijuana.

The Commissioner personally apologized to Adams for that confidential information being leaked to the media, which might have been done in an effort to drive down those players’ respective draft values.

“It was shocking,” said Adams. “My name is a good name. That’s what I want people to know about me is that I have a good name, so when that came out it kind of put a glitch on my name and my family’s name. I was very upset. There was nothing I could do about it. I was only telling the truth.

According to Adams, he accepted the Commissioner’s apology.

“I was just being honest,” said Adams. “I don’t use drugs. Unfortunately, that was all confidential information. The Commissioner handled it well. When I was in New York we had a brief meeting.

“He said he was going to try to find out who put that information out there. But the main thing was he wanted to apologize, and that was better than anything else.”

Adams feels time will help heal those wounds. But he doesn’t have time to waste in terms of shaking a label handed to him by some critics that suggested he took some plays off in college.

 “I have no idea why people say that,” said Adams. “They have their own opinion. I can say that I’m a dominant player and I don’t take plays off.

“Like Coach Gruden said, it all starts with effort. I’m going to have to give it my all. I know those guys are good football players. At the same time, I’m going to have to be better and lead this league in effort.”

This will be an extremely busy week for Adams, who will take the field as a Buccaneer for the first time on Friday when the team conducts a three-day rookie mini-camp at One Buccaneer Place.

However, the learning curve might be accelerated a bit thanks to second-year DE Charles Bennett, who was Adams’ teammate and roommate at Clemson.

“I talked to him last night,” said Adams. “We have a tremendous relationship. We were roommates back in college. We’re going to have a good time.”

While he looks forward to picking up his friendship with Bennett, Adams plans to become extremely close with Rice, who is currently Tampa Bay’s starting right defensive end.

Rice, 33, is recovering from season-ending shoulder surgery. Even if he isn’t 100 percent healthy by the time Tampa Bay’s next set of organized team activities roll around, Rice is still well ahead of Adams.

Rice, who is entering the final year of his contract, has notched 121 career sacks since entering the NFL as a first-round draft pick out of Illinois. Of those quarterback takedowns, 69.5 of Rice’s sacks have come during his stint as a Buccaneer.

Before he could unseat Rice as a starter, Adams must first learn from his mentor, which is an opportunity he relishes.

“It’s like a dream come true,” said Adams. “It’s great for me knowing that Simeon Rice has had success in this business and is a great player. I’m going to be able to listen to him and follow him. It’s a great honor.”

So, who will emerge from training camp as Tampa Bay’s starting right end?

“I’m going to come in and work hard,” said Adams. “Simeon is a great player. May the best man win.”

And if Adams does manage to beat out Rice for a starting job on opening day, Gruden reminded him that he would have very little time to celebrate.

“You get [Seattle left tackle] Walter Jones in your opener. No pressure on you, Gaines,” Gruden said with a smile on his face. “We better get to work here, brother.”

Adams is anxious to prove to Gruden that the Bucs made the right decision when they used the fourth overall pick in the draft to select him.

“Coach Gruden is giving me this opportunity and the only way I can pay him back is to give him what he needs,” said Adams. “So I’m going to have to give him what he needs because he’s putting the future into my hands, and I’m willing to accept that.”

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