LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Gaines Adams still indulges in the occasional fast-food meal. You know, a triple cheeseburger, large fries and a large soda. They're just not a staple in his diet anymore.
For so long – well into his rookie season, in fact – fast-food meals were Adams' diet.
Worn out from practice, Adams usually would just want to go straight home and straight to sleep, so the fast-food joint with the shortest drive-thru line often became his lunch and dinner stop.
"I was after whatever was quick and convenient,'' the Bucs second-year defensive end said. "But it was killing me.''
Not literally. The fast-food meals were killing a big part of Adams, however. In particular, they were destroying the quickness and the energy that made him one of football's most promising young pass rushers.
The worst thing about it was Adams didn't even realize it. Not until he took note one day of teammate Jovan Haye's boundless quickness and energy and asked him for the recipe for it.
"He told me that he always takes his vitamins and that he really cut back on all the fatty foods he was eating,'' Adams said Tuesday following the Bucs' morning workout. "I really took that to heart.''
It shows. Adams hasn't lost any of the 258 pounds he carried last year but it sure looks like he has. The baby fat that softened his appearance a year ago is now sculpted muscle.
Adams seems quicker, too, and he swears his energy level is greater. His confidence is way up as well. So are expectations for the season that lies just ahead.
The football world is expecting double-digit sacks from Adams this season. Based on what he did in the second half of his rookie season, it's not an unrealistic goal.
A wallflower who blossomed midway through his first dance, Adams had 5½ of his seven sacks last year in the final eight games, including one in the playoff loss to the New York Giants.
"He was just a completely different player that second half last year,'' Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "It was like the light suddenly went on for him at some point.''
That's pretty much what everyone says about Adams, who struggled mightily through the first half of 2007, whose one full sack occurred when he simply touched an already-downed Vince Young.
"I was just trying too hard,'' Adams said. "I knew there were a lot of high expectations on me and I wanted to do good. I just put too much pressure on myself.''
It wasn't just pressure that cut into Adams' production. His less-than-ideal work ethic, on and off the field, hampered him as well. It did, at least, until he got some guidance.
Defensive linemates Kevin Carter and Chris Hovan provided most of that guidance. And though there were times when they actually sat Adams down and discussed it with him, a lot of what they did was by example.
It took a while, but Adams eventually noticed how Carter and Hovan always seemed to arrive at One Buc Place long before they had to be there and how they were always watching film or working out.
"I think what we showed him is that you have to earn the right to be out there on Sunday,'' Carter said. "Hovan and I, we go out there every day to earn it and it was about halfway through last year that he suddenly seemed to get that. All of a sudden you could just see it in his eyes.''
Now you hear it in his voice. Now you see it in the way he practices. There's an edge to Adams' game now. A better understanding of what the Bucs really want from him is a big part of that.
"Last year I was really just off and running most of the time,'' Adams said. "Now, when they call the plays out, I'm not asking somebody, 'What do I do here? Where do I go.'
"This year, everything's just a whole lot better, and I feel a whole lot more relaxed. I know I still have pressure on me, but I know the scheme now and what I have to do and I just feel a whole lot better about everything.''