For Gaines Adams, 2009 is a make-or-break season.
The Bucs took Adams with their first pick in the 2007 draft, and he’s been hailed as everything from a potential Warren Sapp to a bust. As the fourth pick overall in that draft, he has had to deal with high expectations, but he hasn’t quite played up to expectations, according to former Bucs coach Jon Gruden or many Bucs fans.
Over the past two seasons, Adams went from 49 tackles in 2007 to 40 in 2008, starting every game along the way. That’s about three tackles per game from a player who came out of Clemson with high marks as a pass rushing run stopper, just what the Bucs needed at the time.
Now that the Bucs have overhauled the defense, it is Adams' turn to step up and make a difference. He’s had 12.5 sacks in his two years with the Bucs, but he has been slow to stop the run and his work ethic has been questioned.
Last season, especially down the stretch, Adams was slow to get to the ball. In Week 13 against New Orleans last season, the one that started the downhill snowball for the Bucs, Adams had only one assist on a tackle. Not the kind of numbers from a top draft pick.
Former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin was often frustrated by Adams' progression, but most NFL rookies need about two years to mature into a bona fide star. This is Adams’ third year, and he’s desperately needed on a line that bears no resemblance to the run-stopping, quarterback-chasing lines from previous seasons.
With Chris Hovan, Roy Miller, and Ryan Sims on the inside of the front line, the Bucs are at least solid. Stylez White is Adams’ counterpart over at left defensive end, and even he isn’t a lock to start after struggling last year.
The Bucs are an attacking defense, but they can’t attack without pressure from the outside, and Adams is the key. Coming from the right side, he’s expected to hammer the opposing quarterback on his blind side, which he hasn’t done in his two years with the Bucs.
Gruden stressed patience last season when Adams started to get grilled by the media. With the new regime taking over in Tampa Bay, patience might not be an option, and it’s time for Adams to prove himself worthy of being the fourth overall pick in the 2007 draft. By now, his poster should be hanging on the outside of Raymond James Stadium.