TAMPA - The other day, Warren Sapp was talking about his sack-happy days with the Bucs , when he and Simeon Rice sometimes met up at the quarterback.
It's a road map for someone like Bucs defensive end Gaines Adams, who still doesn't quite know the way.
"The jury is coming in, and it's coming in fast with a verdict on it," Sapp said.
"I have a target on me," Adams said. "I put one there, too."
Two seasons into his NFL career, with only 12.5 sacks, Adams hasn't justified the Bucs making him the fourth overall pick in the 2007 draft. Period.
"I still feel I can do anything possible," he said. "A lot of people are waiting to see it. I'm waiting to see it myself."
He knows the word is out there. It was around this offseason as we talked about the Bucs needing a better pass rush, or help at defensive end. It always came back to Adams. And the word:
Adams hasn't broken out. He showed signs of it in 2008, at least early on, with 6.5 sacks and two interceptions, one for a touchdown. But he fell at the end. Then again, who didn't?
Bucs coach Raheem Morris and defensive coordinator Jim Bates think this is a pivotal season for the 25-year-old Adams.
"Gaines is about ready to reach that plateau," Morris said a while back. "He started off his first eight games of [last] year fast, exciting, explosive, scoring touchdowns; we were all excited about that. Didn't finish so fast, just like the rest of our team."
Bates, who worked with Jason Taylor in Miami and saw him take off, thinks there's a learning curve for a defensive end. He said Taylor went from 2.5 sacks as a rookie to 14 in his second year and 17 in his third.
"Gaines, it's wide open for him as far as the ability level," Bates said. "? There's no reason he can't be a big-time sacker in this league. To our experience, the second year going into the third year is the biggest jump."
"The first year, you don't know enough to know about anything. You get into your second year and it's how to adjust to what I saw, what am I working on and trying to get to? My third year comes and the light comes on. If you're any kind of player, the light comes on for you in the third year."
In 1997, in the first game of his third year as a Buccaneer, Sapp went wild against the 49ers, tearing apart Steve Young and Jerry Rice. It set the tone for his career and the Bucs' first playoff season in forever.
"I'm thinking I'm ready to break out," Gaines Adams said. "The first two years, you learn a lot. It's being able to know what to do and how to do it."
He cites the case of Houston Texans pass rusher Mario Williams, the top pick in the 2006 draft, over Reggie Bush, no less. Many Texans fans booed the pick, more so after Williams had just 4.5 sacks his rookie season. He had 14 in his second season. He had 12 and made the Pro Bowl as a starter last season.
"Prime example is Mario," Adams said.
Gaines Adams has heard the talk. That four-letter word: bust.
"It hurts in some ways," he said. "You want to be the best. You have high expectations for yourself. It's motivation, too. I want to prove people wrong and show I'm worthy of the spot I was taken in the draft."
Now would seem as good a time as any for the light to go on. The jury is coming in.
(CHART) Gaines Adams' STATISTICS
Year G/GS Tack. Sacks FF Int. TD
2007 16/8 38 6.0 1 0 0
2008 16/16 38 6.5 0 2 1
Totals 32/24 76 12.5 1 2 1
Photo credit: Tribune photo by JAY CONNER
Photo: Gaines Adams
Photo credit: Tribune photo by JOSEPH BROWN III
Photo: Gaines Adams, trying to bring down Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell in the 2008 season finale, is hoping his third season will bring improvement and better statistics from his defensive end position.
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