Bucs DE Noah Spence - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Explosiveness and speed are reasons why the Bucs brought Noah Spence to Tampa Bay.
Through the draft or via free agency, the team’s swung and missed more times than it would like to admit in recent years when it comes to finding edge rushing quarterback hunters. But the Bucs’ luck in that department may be turning for the better and an early second-quarter play last Sunday against Chicago encapsulates why.
Bucs DE Noah Spence – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
With the Bears facing a third-and-goal situation inside the Bucs 5, Spence scorched right tackle Bobby Massie, but his wide, looping path put him behind the pocket. Good coverage from the secondary flushed Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler to his left – the opposite side of where Spence originally lined up – but the rookie never slowed his pursuit. When Cutler finally decided to cock back and deliver a pass it was too late. Spence hit him from behind while also stripping the ball from his grasp. Linebacker Kwon Alexander jumped on the loose ball, allowing Tampa Bay to preserve its 7-3 lead.
The athletic play counted as Spence’s second forced fumble and fourth sack of the season. The latter total ties him for second most among NFL rookies with two other players, San Diego’s Joey Bosa and Jacksonville’s Yannick Ngakoue. Bears outside linebacker Leonard Floyd picked up 1.5 sacks against Tampa Bay and leads that category with five.
When the Bucs drafted Spence in the second round (39th overall) out of Eastern Kentucky, the plan was for him to get worked into the defense as a pass rushing specialist. At 251 pounds, Spence is on the light side for an every-down defensive end.
Those plans changed, however, when injuries struck down George Johnson in the offseason and Jacquies Smith during the first game of the year. Another new defensive end acquisition that’s worked out well is Robert Ayers Jr., but he was hurt Week 2 and missed four straight games before returning.
The injuries thrust Spence into a bigger role right away. Through nine games he’s played the fifth most snaps among Bucs defensive linemen. The development gap to be bridged is still considerable – Spence has recorded eight tackles over 275 plays, half coming as sacks – but his on-the-job training is going well, defensive coordinator Mike Smith said.
“His skill set is very good for being a good pass rusher,” Smith said this week. “He’s strong handed, he’s quick off the ball, he can bend and I think we’re seeing the more opportunities he has to rush, the more success he’s going to have. I still believe that the ceiling’s a lot higher than what he’s performing right now, but he’s performing at a very good level for a first-year player.”
Spence’s play is inspiring confidence among teammates, as well. One of those Bucs is defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Moments still exist where the rookie may run himself out of plays or lose his fit, but McCoy said he can see Spence beginning to recognize situations and make proper adjustments.
“I think at the beginning of the ball game last week on Sunday he was a little juiced up and we got out of our gap, but you can see his ability to close,” McCoy said from the locker room Wednesday. “You can see his ability to shut off the gap when the ball goes away from him and I think he’s getting a better understanding. A lot of our young players are still trying to figure out the nuances, based on where the backs align, what the down and distance is, and those are things that you learn as a professional football player through repetition. It’s something that doesn’t happen overnight, they’re all learning experiences. When you don’t close and they run the ball back and we give up seven or eight yards, next time it happens, he stays on the line of scrimmage and we have a 2-yard gain. So they’re learning experiences for Noah and all of our guys.
“But Noah is not going to be just a DPR, a designated pass rusher. I have no doubt in my mind that he’s going to be a guy that’s going to be in the rotation and be able to play on first and second down.”
It’s not just increased game reps that has Spence playing at a higher, more consistent level, either. Spence credits learning how to prepare like a professional before Sundays, too.
“I saw a lot of the guys watching a lot of film so I got into it,” Spence said. “It’s making me be able to see things more on the field. It was a blessing that I was able to hear it from them that that’s what they do. So I was like, ‘Wait, maybe I should put that in my game and start watching a lot more film.’ It’s definitely helping the game slow down and be able to see stuff before it happens.”
There is no question he is in a positive learning curve, but he is a year from being a NFL full time starting effective DE. He needs to add 10-15 pounds and continue to be creative in learning new skills to get to the QB. He was and is worth the daft spit where he was picked. Go Bucs!
Here in Bucville we are often impatient with rookies who don’t look like Pro Bowlers after a few games in the league. We are often quick to write off a player before he has barely begun his career. If a youngster has a few bad plays as he is learning his craft or has an injury we almost immediately throw out the “bust” label. I suspect our losing so many games the past 10 + years has made us a bit more restless.
What has contributed to this is how young the players are entering the league. In the old days, a college player stayed in school for four and sometimes five years. Now, the really good ones, or those who think they’re good, come out as early as they can. We fail to acknowledge the that these guys need to learn and grow into the position. It’s no different than a young college grad entering the work force for the first time. They don’t know what they don’t know.
Our favorite team is a bunch of millennials given prominent roles on a team that has been at the bottom of the league for over a decade. Guys like Winston, Evans, Brate, Marpet, Donovan Smith, Alexander, David, Gholston and others are being asked to lead the team because there are only a few elite veterans to guide them.
If they are the right players they will become the backbone of the team. If not…………..I don’t want to think about it.
Damn right scubog, the fan’s are far too impatient for every draft choice we make to be a pro bowler in their first season. The trend is to pick juniors and we do have a some that are playing today that would be still eligible to on a college field. Those players still need that experience whether they got it in college or in the pro’s. As a result, some of these players best play is a few years down the road.
Will Gholston is a great example. Picked up as a junior out of Michigan State, it’s only starting now for things to really click for Will. Will he be a annual 10 sack guy? Not likely, but he’ll be a very solid guy on the end or in the middle capable of making plays against the run and adding 6-7 sacks a year with an occasional good year with close to 10 sacks. Much like Robert Ayers.
As a team, we are still two years away, two drafts away from being a consistent team IMO – assuming of course we stop the coaching carousel and give the current coach enough time to get those players to play to their best ability in a constant system.
Bucs have had an abysmal record drafting pass rushing ends. Spence is showing signs he may be the real deal with more time.
Jacques smith has talent too but he just can’t seem to stay healthy.
We have good run stopping line when healthy but we still need more speed in pass rushing from somewhere.
I’m surprised no one here is mentioning that Spence is playing well through injury. At the beginning of October he dislocated his shoulder and he has a torn labrum. He’s flashing some, but I think his game will really pick up next year with some experience and better health.
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