TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -After years of neglect, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' aging defense is getting a facelift.
The Bucs augmented a couple of key signings in free agency Saturday by selecting Clemson pass rusher Gaines Adams with the first of four picks the club had in the first three rounds of the NFL draft.
The 6-foot-5, 258-pound defensive end joins linebacker Cato June and lineman Kevin Carter as the newest additions to a defense that ranked among the best in the league for 10 consecutive seasons before struggling during a 4-12 finish in 2006.
The Bucs, who used the first of two second-round picks on Tennessee guard Arron Sears, entered last season with seven starters on defense who were 30 or older. Three of them - cornerback Brian Kelly, end Simeon Rice and linebacker Shelton Quarles - missed significant playing time because of injuries.
Quarles, 35, was released last week, however Kelly, 31, and Rice, 33, remain in the team's plans.
``I don't care how old guys are as long as they can play,'' defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. ``But we do need to get a little younger.''
With Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson and Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn still available when the Bucs selected fourth overall, there was speculation that coach Jon Gruden might not be able to resist taking an offensive player in the opening round for the fourth straight year.
But Tampa Bay drafted running back Carnell ``Cadillac'' Anderson two years ago and addressed a need to upgrade the quarterback position by signing free agent Jeff Garcia and trading for Jake Plummer last month.
``Obviously, you want to take what you think your football team needs,'' Gruden said. `` At the same time, we have to take a good look at who we think is the best football player on the board.''
Shortly after the Bucs finished their third losing season in four years with just 25 sacks, Gruden identified improving the pass rush as one of the club's top priorities this offseason. Selecting Adams, the Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year, fills that need.
Adams led the ACC with 12.5 sacks in 2006 and left Clemson tied with Michael Dean Perry for the top spot on the Tigers' career list with 28.
``He's a good football player with a chance to be great and certainly addresses an area we want to improve in,'' Gruden said, adding that the Bucs did not select Adams with intentions of trading him later in the day.
``There's a lot of speculation about us moving up and trying to trade our pick. We're happy to have Gaines Adams. And unless something drastically changes, we fully expect him to be a Buccaneer for a long time.''
The Bucs, 17th in total defense last season after ranking in the Top 10 for a decade, had not selected a defensive player in the first round since taking tackle Anthony McFarland at No. 15 overall in 1999.
Adams was in the spotlight in the days leading up to the draft after a recent story in Pro Football Weekly identified him and two other Top 10 picks, Georgia Tech receiver Calvin Johnson and Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, as admitting during team interviews at the NFL scouting combine that they experimented with marijuana.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell warned that in the future, clubs will be disciplined for leaking confidential information from interviews with prospective players. He apologized to Adams and Johnson, who were among a group of prospects visiting league headquarters on Friday.
``That was confidential information. I was just being truthful,'' Adams said by telephone from New York. ``That's the type of guy that I am. I just wanted whichever team that drafted me to know they were going to be getting a truthful guy.''
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