TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -Soft-spoken Gaines Adams measured his words in a calm and deliberate manner, hardly resembling the discouraged rookie who slung his helmet in frustration when he was removed from a game last week.
The first defensive player selected in this year's draft is off to a slow start for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He wasn't happy when he trotted onto the field to replace injured Greg Spires, only to be summoned back to the sideline before the next play was even run.
``It's just being a competitor and wanting to play. It was really nothing to it,'' said Adams, who has 1 1-2 sacks through eight games and acknowledges the transition from Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year to the NFL has been more challenging than he anticipated.
``Anybody playing a game that they love wants to be out there in the spotlight and help their team and be the best they can be. ... When they tell me it's my time to go out there, I'll go out there and perform the best way I can.''
Well, that time has arrived.
With Spires sidelined indefinitely with a strained calf, Adams' role will increase beginning Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals (3-4), who like the Bucs (4-4) are trying to snap a two-game losing streak.
Although Adams still is likely to split playing time with former Arena League player Greg White, Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden is counting on the 6-foot-5, 258-pound defensive end to start showing why he was the fourth overall pick in the draft.
The rookie's display of emotion when he was taken off the field during last Sunday's 24-23 loss to Jacksonville didn't bother Gruden. Adams returned a few plays later to team with White on a sack, forcing a punt that gave Tampa Bay's offense a chance for a winning drive.
``I think the way he played (last week), I think he has the right to be frustrated a little bit,'' Gruden said, adding that the former Clemson star is improving and figures to see his playing time increase during the second half of the season.
hings from him.''
The lack of a consistent pass rush has been one of the factors in the Bucs losing three of four games following a 3-1 start. It's also the biggest difference in a defense that Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner is very familiar with from his days in St. Louis.
Warner, a former league MVP playing with a torn ligament in his left elbow, has started the past two games with Matt Leinart out for the season with a broken collarbone. He's completed 64.3 percent of his passes for 883 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions, and attributes part of the success to an offensive line providing the best protection he's had since leaving the Rams.
Although the Cardinals turned over the ball eight times in their past two games and are among the league leaders in penalty yards, six of Arizona's seven games have been determined by a touchdown or less.
``We have to find a way to finish games that we didn't finish in the first half,'' Warner said, adding the bye last week helped the team get a little healthier and refocus for the remaining nine games.
``We've got to do the little things, avoid some penalties, avoid some turnovers and try to find a way to finish games. We feel good about what we've done in the first half from a competitive standpoint. We just don't feel good about what our record is comparable to how we played in the first half.''
Nevertheless, the Cardinals being in the thick of the race in the NFC West speaks volumes about the team's improvement under first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt. Arizona trails first-place Seattle by one game.
Confidence is building.
``You start believing that guys are going to make plays ... which I think is a little bit different than what we've had here in the past,'' Warner said. ``In the past, it seemed like we had more guys that were waiting for somebody else to make a big play, that weren't quite confident we could put ourselves in a position to win, that we could make that big play down the stretch.''
In addition to trying to get Adams going, the injury-riddled Bucs are a half-game behind division leader Carolina in the NFC South. A victory would provide a much-needed lift going into their bye next week.
``I've still got a lot of room for improvement, but overall I've been doing some good things,'' said Adams, whose first sack came when Vince Young ran into a teammate and fell before the Bucs rookie touched him down.
When Adams was drafted, Gruden said he wanted the 24-year-old to lead the league in effort. The coach said that hasn't happened, although Adams remains eager to please.
``I'm not saying I disagree with him. It's just something me and him have got to get on better terms with,'' the rookie said. ``And we will.''

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