The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team desperately in need of a pass-rush presence after finishing out of the top 10 in sacks for the first time since 1997, responded by drafting Adams with the fourth overall selection. On July 27, the same day that Tampa Bay released veteran pass rusher Simeon Rice, Adams signed a six-year, $46 million contract with $18.56 million in guaranteed money. The Buccaneers could not have made a more definitive statement – Gaines Adams would be the future of their defense.
Adams is no collegiate fluke – he has what it takes to succeed at the NFL level. But every rookie, no matter how talented, arrives at Destination: Reality. It’s their “Welcome to the NFL” moment; that play, or series of plays, in which their raw talent, and relative lack of professional experience, will be revealed.
Adams will face his moment very soon after he runs out onto Seattle’s Qwest Field for his first regular-season NFL game. When he puts his hand down at the right defensive end position, he’ll look up into the eyes of Seattle’s left tackle, a man who has spent more than a decade turning gifted players like Adams into yard waste.
Gaines Adams, meet Walter Jones. He’ll be your worst nightmare for the next three hours.
The legends are all true. How Jones turned Patrick Kerney, Seattle’s high-priced free-agent defender, into a wheezing self-parody in a game against Kerney’s Falcons in 2005. How he bulled Carolina’s Mike Rucker backward, running step-for-step with Shaun Alexander for fifteen yards, until he almost disemboweled Rucker with a takedown and helmet spike in the 2005 NFC Championship Game. How he played 18 games on a sprained ankle in 2006. How he pushes his brother-in-law’s 2002 Cadillac Escalade up and down a parking lot near his off-season home in Alabama. Weight Program? Please. Walter Jones prefers the Auto Club. Which defensive lineman stands a chance?
Several of them stood a chance last season, as Jones’ injuries and a great deal of upheaval along Seattle’s line brought forth Jones’ least effective season. He allowed nine blown blocks according to Football Outsiders’ numbers, and 10.5 sacks according to STATS, Inc. Now, he’s back and ready to perform at his peak after sitting out most of the preseason as a precautionary measure to rest his surgically repaired shoulder. With second-year guard Rob Sims showing great progress to Jones’ right, the Seahawks’ best player when healthy is ready to make the point all over again.
Adams, who has seen enough of Jones to know what he’s in for, has few doubts. ““I’m very anxious; it’s live bullets right now,” the rookie said. “This is when they count, so you’re going to get everyone’s best effort and fortunate enough, I start off with Walter Jones. Starting off against Walter Jones is going to be a big test for me, to show me where I am at right now.”
Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden has seen more than enough of Jones. “We’ve all got to get ready for Walter because he’ll be ready for you,” the Bucs’ mercurial leader said. “Walter will be ready for you.
”Whoever is on Walter Jones is going to get as good a football player as there has been in the league the last seven, eight, nine years at left tackle. Gaines Adams, Joe Adams, The Adams Family – anybody who plays – better be ready to go."
Gentlemen, start your engines.
Walter Jones is back, and he’s out to prove a point.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, and a contributing author to Pro Football Prospectus 2007. Feel free to e-mail him here.