The Buccaneers made their first-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft Saturday, but it wasn’t Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

With LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell, Johnson and Wisconsin offensive tackle Joe Thomas selected by Oakland, Detroit and Cleveland, respectively, Tampa Bay landed arguably the best defensive player in the 2007 NFL Draft by drafting Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams.

“We’re excited to have selected defensive end Gaines Adams,” said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. “We said earlier, as the offseason began, that we wanted to upgrade our pass rush. We feel like we did that today. He is a fine football player. We’re eager to put him in our colors and get him started. He’s a good football player with a chance to be great and it certainly addresses an area that we want to improve at.

“I’ll say that he is a guy we think is the number one defensive player in his draft. There were some other players, honestly, that we would have loved to have had. But you only get to pick once, unfortunately. We got a guy that we think is an outstanding player and he has a chance to be a great pro football player. He’ll fit in our scheme nicely and I think he’ll have the talent to update our pass rush immediately.”

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 marks the first time since 1999 that the Buccaneers have 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.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said with a big smile on his face.

Some speculated that the Bucs selected Adams with the intention of attempting to trade him to the Lions in a deal for Johnson. According to Gruden, the Bucs selected Adams with the intention of having him suit up in a red and pewter uniform.

“There’s a lot of speculation, honestly, about us trading up or trying to trade our pick,” Gruden said. “We’re happy to have Gaines Adams. Unless something drastically changes, we full expect him to be a Buccaneer for a long time. There were a lot of rumors and speculation that weren’t true, but there is a lot of hype at the top of the first round and obviously that is the case again this year.

“Again, no talks. I really don’t know of any talks that we did have. I know there are a lot of people who are trying to stir up interest in a pick or player. Sometimes it’s an agent trying to stir up interest in whatever we’re talking about here. But no, we were pretty content on sitting here at number four. We knew we were going to get an outstanding player, and we feel like we did today.”

While Tampa Bay’s offense, which scored just 20 touchdowns in 2006, could have used a talent like Johnson or Thomas, its defense was in need of a pass rusher.

“It’s called pressure, guys. It really is,” said Kiffin. “Years ago we had that deal with Warren Sapp humming and Simeon Rice doing his thing off the edge, and I’m just telling you that it’s not all about sacks – it’s about pressure. People make too big a thing with the sacks. They’re very important, but it’s important to get the pressure.

“Gaines Adams brings that to our team. He really does. He’s a great young man and he loves football. He’s got a quiet demeanor about him, but you can be quiet and still be a darn good football player. But he’s not a quiet player when the ball is snapped. That’s the important thing.”

Last year, Tampa Bay’s defensive linemen accounted for just 19 sacks. That lack of pass rush and pressure contributed to the Bucs defense failing to finish ranked in the top 10 for the first time in a decade, ranking 17th overall in 2006. 

The 6-foot-5, 258-pound Adams is considered a tremendous pass rusher. Adams ran an impressive 4.66 40-yard dash at the Combine. He used that agility and speed to record 168 tackles and 28 sacks during his four-year career at Clemson.

Adams notched 12.5 of those quarterback takedowns along with 17.5 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries during his senior season.

In addition to his pass rushing ability, Adams has long arms and a knack for deflecting passes, evidenced by his 21 career pass deflections. He is also so fluid in his movements that he can drop into coverage on zone blitzes

Although he was the fourth overall pick and first defensive player taken in the 2007 NFL Draft, Adams does have some things he needs to work on, including his reputation for taking some plays off, which he takes issue with.

“I [am] a hard worker,” said Adams. “I’m willing to learn. I’m a dedicated guy that loves football.

“I don’t think there’s any truth to that. As a defensive end you’re the last man on the line, so you have certain things you have to read. Unfortunately it might sometimes seem like I’m taking a play off, but I don’t feel that’s the case. I’m just glad I’m getting the opportunity to play in Tampa and show the people that said that that they’re wrong.”

According to Kiffin and Coyer, both of whom did a lot of film study on Adams, their first-round pick took a few plays off, but they were far and few between.

“Not too many,” Kiffin said when asked if he saw Adams take plays off in college. “Most people are going to take some plays off, but Coach Coyer and I studied Gaines very, very hard and he took a few plays off, but we all do. But he didn’t take many. And Coach Coyer and I talked to him about that. When you’re the No. 4 overall draft pick in the first round you can’t take many plays off.”

Coyer compares Adams to Broncos DE Trevor Pryce and said the rookie has “God-given pass rush ability,” but needs to work on defending the run, which is something Coyer and Kiffin are confident they can teach him in Tampa Bay.

“He’s a better rusher than he is a run player, but it’s not too hard to teach somebody who wants to do it how to defend the run,” said Kiffin. “Some guys don’t like to play the run, but that’s not Gaines Adams.”

There were also character concerns regarding Adams, who reportedly admitted to experimenting with marijuana in college during an interview with NFL scouts at the Combine.

“I talked to the Commissioner and he apologized [for that information leaking to the media],” said Adams. “Unfortunately, that was confidential information and I was just being truthful. That’s just the way I am. I just wanted to let whatever team drafted me to know that they were going to be getting a truthful guy.”

Although Adams is capable of playing at both defensive end positions, Gruden said Adams would initially work at right end, which is where Simeon Rice has played in Kiffin’s defense since 2001. Rice has recorded 121 career sacks, including 69.5 quarterback takedowns with the Bucs.

However, Rice, is 33 and has a salary cap value of $10.450 million in 2007, which is the final year of his contract with the Buccaneers. Rice, who has been the subject of some trade rumors, is also coming off of season ending shoulder surgery and is not yet 100 percent healthy.

“We’re going to work that out,” Gruden said of Adams and Rice working at the same position. “Obviously, when you draft and when you acquire free agents, you have to do some things with the depth chart. We’re going to play the best player, whoever it is. Simeon is making a recovery from an injury. It’s an injury that I think has proven to be healthy now. We’ll address all of those things as time unfolds, but we did acquire a heck of a football player today.”

Adams is yet another piece Tampa Bay has added to its defensive line this offseason. In addition to firing Jethro Franklin and hiring Larry Coyer as their defensive line coach, the Bucs signed veteran DL Kevin Carter and DE Patrick Chukwurah in free agency and have now added Adams, who should reap the benefits of working with a veteran -aden unit.

“I think we’ve got a great room for him to really flourish in,” Gruden said of Adams. “You talked about Simeon Rice – the addition of Kevin Carter, who’s one of the truly great pro football players in the league – he’s in great shape, he plays every Sunday and he’s a great leader. Chris Hovan, Greg Spires – there’s a real good environment for him with good quality pro football players to learn from. And not just playing the game but how to prepare to play the game on and off the field. And I think from a role model standpoint he’s in a great environment to really take off and flourish. Larry Coyer is going to do a great job with him, and as you all know, Monte Kiffin is one of the best in football.”

If he is going to work his way into the starting lineup, Adams likely will have to beat out Rice. That’s a challenge he has already embraced since learning he was a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.

“We haven’t really talked about that yet,” said Adams. “But I’m going to go in and work hard and hopefully one day I’ll be starting.

“[Beating Rice out] is my job. He’s a great player and I’m a great player, so we’re just going to have to compete and may the best player play.”

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