Tampa Bay defensive tackle Akeem Spence may be another week away from making his season debut but the team is ready for that day to come.

Spence hasn’t seen any live action since last year’s regular-season finale and was placed on the active/physically unable to perform list July 31. Since that 23-20 loss to New Orleans last December, the Buccaneers have added veterans Henry Melton and Tony McDaniel to the mix at defensive tackle.

Melton and McDaniel serve as backups to starters Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald and have combined for 11 total tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. Spence totaled 37 tackles and three sacks after appearing in all 16 games in 2014 and starting the final five. He also was hit with a one-game suspension by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy that was served Week 1, even though he was unavailable anyway.

The team won’t rush the 6-foot-1, 307-pounder’s return from a back injury, but head coach Lovie Smith said getting him in the rotation can only help a defensive front producing unevenly through five games.

“We would never rush a decision,” Smith said Wednesday. “When a guy is ready though, we put him out there. We err on the side of caution always, but he’s looked pretty good. Today is his first day wearing pads, so you couldn’t tell an awful lot, but [he] looked pretty good out there. Akeem Spence has played good ball for us. He can give us another presence inside. Some guys are okay taking on the double team, things like that, he is.”

Tampa Bay’s received 11.5 of its 15 sacks from its front four, with 5.5 of those coming from defensive tackles. McCoy’s produced 4.5 of the interior sacks and Melton picked up the other.

Stopping the run has been a season-long struggle, however, with opponents gashing the Bucs for 120.4 yards per game. Teams aren’t deterred from abandoning the run against Tampa Bay, staying on the ground for an average of 31.0 attempts. Only Miami gets run on more frequently.

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About the Author: Eric Horchy

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