Originally I wanted to write a full-fledged article about Gaines Adams' little coming out party, but I haven't had the time to properly break down the game, much less put together a coherent, engaging essay about it. So, this will have to suffice.
I've been following Gaines' progress since he was a junior at Clemson, the year he really broke out onto the draft landscape. Quick-twitch athleticism, graceful body control, terrific closing speed, and an explosive first step have long been qualities that Gaines has possessed. However, since his junior year, there has been a very slow progression when it comes to turning skills into production. In fact, despite being selected among the first five picks in the first round, I thought his senior year was extremely subpar and, frankly, less impressive than what Jamaal Anderson had done for Arkansas. There had been no improvement in Gaines' awareness, snap anticipation, and pass rushing arsenal between his Junior and Senior seasons. In fact, there were several games, most noticeably against Georgia Tech, where Gaines was shut down by offensive tackles who would have next to nothing to give to an NFL team. Add in a long history of Clemson players underachieving in the NFL, and you could consider the pick to be especially risky for the Bucs.
Of course, being a Bucs fan has allowed me to follow his progression from day one in the NFL, and I haven't been impressed. Despite accolades from our well-respected friends The Football Outsiders, Gaines made very little progress in his first two seasons. His pass rushing moves were basically limited to running himself out of the play and attempting to spin back into the pocket in vain. Although he racked up some sacks and his discipline playing the run had improved, there was no consistency on a game-to-game basis, no sign that he was ready to turn into the dominant pass rusher he was supposed to be. When you consider that elite pass rushers tend to have immediate success in the NFL, as well as the stories about eating McDonalds and never doing squats, you had to wonder if it was ever going to click.
The beginning of his third season was more of the same until his recent performance against Washington. Although he couldn't maintain his outstanding performance throughout the entire game, his first three snaps against the Redskins deserves recognition and hope that he may yet live up to his draft status.
1st Quarter, 14:29:
Adams is lined up as the right defensive end, just off the left tackle's shoulder on the second snap of the game. The Redskins motion RB Clinton Portis out of the backfield, leaving FB Rock Cartwright alone and clearly announcing QB Jason Campbell will be throwing the ball. Adams gets an excellent jump of the snap. In a shocking turn of events, Adams elects not to try running by LT Chris Samuels, but instead fainting side to side and then directly engaging Samuels, getting his hands right inside the tackle's chest. Samuels, obviously confused by this sudden use of a power move, is taken aback and then tossed aside as Gaines uses his left arm to knock Samuels aside, creating a clear lane to the quarterback. Sack recorded, writer Suttree amazed.
1st Quarter, 13:58
On the third snap of the game, the Redskins present their offense from the shotgun formation. Adams has now switched to the left side of the line, just off the shoulder of TE Chris Cooley. The ball is snapped and Cooley gets into his route without engaging Adams, leaving Gaines one-on-one with RT Stephen Heyer. As he did on the previous play, Gaines attacks Heyer directly, staying low, getting into Heyer's body and use his hands to shock Heyer backwards. It works and Adams is able to use his outstanding agility to manuever away from Heyer and towards an unprotected Campbell. Feeling the pressure, Campbell steps up into the pocket, where he is hit by DT Jimmy Wilkerson. The hit forces the ball lose, and Gaines, in a surprisingly aware play, picks up the ball, putting the Bucs in perfect position to put points on the board, which they would do. Although Wilkerson gets credit for the sack, this is a play I would notate as a "force" - a play where Adams may not get noticed on the stats sheet, but initiated the defensive stop.
A new world has opened for Gaines Adams, one in which it is obvious the clearest path to the quarterback is in a straight line. Even "soft" pass rushers like Simeon Rice knew how to leverage his long arms, strength, and great first step into knocking offensive linemen off balance. Dwight Freeney, renowned for his speed and agility, derives almost all of his pass rushing skills from his ability to quickly get into a tackle's body and disrupt the tackle's balance. The ability to round the corner and get to the quarterback is only valuable if the opponent knows it has to shut down the direct route first. Violence has not been a major factor in Adams game before this series, but maybe he's been listening to a little Ludwig Van lately.
Content provided by a member of Bucs Nation and does not necessarily reflect the view or opinions of Bucs Nation.