When asked about rookie defensive end Noah Spence last Thursday, defensive coordinator Mike Smith echoed a similar tune to the Bucs’ brass, calling the second-round pick “one of the best – if not the best – pass rusher in the draft.”
Smith said they’ve thrown a lot at Spence over the last week, in terms of defensive strategy and techniques, and he’s come away impressed with the former Eastern Kentucky standout’s football intelligence. There will be a number of packages and prominent role players in Smith’s defense this season, and Spence figures to be a big part of it one way or another.
“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to put together a defense that doesn’t have 11 starters,” Smith said. “We’re trying to have somewhere between 15 and 16 guys that we consider starters on our defense. It’s a long season. You’re going to have guys playing in different packages and we’ve got a plan for Noah in terms of bringing him along.”
While Smith called Spence a prototypical right defensive end, size-wise, he said flexibility will be important for Tampa Bay and Spence will have opportunities at both sides. One of the things that jumps out about Spence are his measurements and elite athleticism.
The 6-foot-2, 251-pound edge rusher earned a reputation as a high motor guy, finishing with 7.5 sacks his sophomore year at Ohio State and 11.5 sacks last season at Eastern Kentucky. He also recorded 63 tackles in 2015, 22.5 of which behind the line of scrimmage while showing significant burst and closing speed.
“Usually when guys are successful in high school and they’re successful in college and they have the traits that you’re looking for – the height, weight and speed – they’re usually successful in the NFL,” Smith said, agreeing with the comparison of Spence to five-time Pro Bowler Elvis Dumervil. “I know that he’s going to be ready to come in here and compete. Nobody has got a position on our team. We’re not saying, ‘These are our starters.’ We’re going to let the guys come in here and compete.”
Considering that Smith is looking for 15 or 16 players to contribute like starters, combined with the fact that they’re challenging the rookies to step outside their comfort zone early on, it makes sense that everyone will compete for their job – nothing will be handed out. But Spence would seem to have a significant advantage.
Along with being a high second-round pick – which many analysts felt was a steal at No. 39 overall – Spence already had his new position coach in his corner even before becoming a Buccaneer.
Jay Hayes, hired away from Cincinnati after 13 years with the Bengals, spoke shortly after Smith and recalled Spence from both their days in Ohio. Hayes went to the Buckeye’s spring game a few years ago and quickly took notice of their young and fast edge rusher.
“They played in Paul Brown Stadium (where the Bengals play) and Noah had like four sacks in the spring game,” Hayes said. “So that was my first exposure to him. He is a guy that can put pressure on the passer. He’s basically a guy that’s a specialist and that’s kind of where we saw him.”