Making Gaines

Gaines Adams (Getty Images)

He became a starter by default, but he hasn't played like it. Rookie DE Gaines Adams has produced two sacks and several quarterback hurries in his first two starts, prompting the Bucs to hope the Clemson product is showing his true colors as a player.

Once Tampa Bay learned that Greg Spires would be out more than a month with a calf injury, it quickly became apparent that either Gaines Adams or Greg White would become the starter at right end.

Veteran linebacker Derrick Brooks had a message for them:

"You're up."

Since he became a starter against Arizona three weeks ago, Adams — the first-round pick out of Clemson — has shown signs that he got the message.

Frustrated by his lack of consistent playing time in the season's first eight games, Adams has taken to his starting role to the tune of two sacks, three quarterback hurries and a forced fumble in his two starts.

The quality of his pressure has improved. More importantly, according to Brooks, the quality of Adams' practice work has improved, too.

Defensive line coach Larry Coyer has seen the progress, too.

"At times we do see it," Coyer said. "But there's a maturity thing there. It has to be each day. That's what Brooks brings to the table. The pros understand that every day and it's hard for rookies to understand that sometimes. This is Game 11 and most of them would have been done this week. This is where it all starts now. There's a process to learning that."

Adams may be grasping the concepts the Bucs have drilled into his since they made him the fourth overall pick. First is humility. Adams is humble to begin with. But during a five-minute interview on Wednesday, despite several questions posed to him about his progress, he barely talked about it. He quickly turned his answer into one about the team's progress.

"Yeah, (I've improved), but I have a lot more room for improvement," Adams said. "I try to lead the league in effort like coach Gruden wants me to do and the plays will come to me."

Most rookies struggle with the pace of the NFL. For rookie defensive ends the curve can be tremendous because most aren't used to seeing a NFL-caliber tackle every week on the college level.

Coyer said there's another factor — sacks. Sacks are the only tangible, statistical way to measure a defensive end's effectiveness.

Rookies can get caught up in that, he said. The real key in a defense like Tampa Bay's is consistent pressure, not necessarily sacks.

"I think you have to get away from that," Coyer said. "It's really true. You have to get away from the sack onus and get into the team onus. When the team does things right the other things will come."

Maybe not coincidentally, Adams' biggest plays the past two weeks have come by applying pressure to the quarterback and not sacking them.

Against Arizona, Adams forced back-to-back incomplete passes by Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner. He applied backside pressure to Warner out of the shotgun on a deep pass attempt to Bryant Johnson, and then used a great inside move to plow through a right tackle to slam into Warner as he threw to Larry Fitzgerald.

The inside move was especially prescient as he took advantage of an off-balance Deuce Lutui.

Against the Falcons he speed-rushed backup left tackle Quinn Ojinakka and got around him quickly enough to slap quarterback Byron Leftwich's arm before he threw, causing a fumble and notching a sack, his first of two during the game.

The play was originally called an interception, but the NFL changed the ruling on Wednesday, giving Adams his first career two-sack game. He bull-rushed Ojinakka again in the fourth quarter to sack backup Joey Harrington.

It seems starting agrees with him. One of Adams' biggest complaints during his first eight games — though he never said so publicly until after he was named a starter — was that he would play one down or two and then come out of the game. That was mostly due to the Bucs' rotation on the defensive line. But it caused him enough frustration against Jacksonville on Oct. 28 to prompt him to slam his helmet into the turf late in the game.

Coincidentally, Spires injured his calf shortly thereafter, opening a starting job for Adams.

Adams has said he's learned that he doesn't always have to be the one to make the play. His ability to rush the passer meshes well with the rest of the line. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said one of Adams' biggest improvements is understand that what he does can open up opportunities for others.

"Sometimes the best plays you make as a defensive end, you don't get the sack, but you force the quarterback to slide to his left and someone else gets it," Gruden said.

And as Adams has made progress, the Bucs defensive line seems to have as well. That may be coincidence, but their five sacks against Atlanta was the Bucs' best this season so far.

"It just seems to have clicked," Adams said. "We were getting with one person, maybe two. Now you have three or four getting there."

And Adams is beginning to lead the charge.

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Listen to Bucsblitz.com's Matthew Postins every Tuesday with former Buccaneers linebacker Scot Brantley on WHBO 1470 ESPN Radio in Tampa and Clearwater from 3-6 p.m. If you miss the show, check out Bucsblitz.com's exclusive team media center for Postins' archived appearances.

Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.

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