Bucs DE Noah Spence - Photo by: Getty Images
Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.
SIKKEMA’S STAT OF THE WEEK
There’s a song by the artist Future called “Used to This” that goes, “Beat the odds, do numbers and remain humble.”
That’s the story of Bucs defensive end Noah Spence.
Spence was once a prized recruit out of high school. He was a unanimous five-star player whether it was with ESPN, Rivals or 24/7 Sports. Spence was either the top or at least the No. 2 player at his position in the 2012 recruiting class across all sites. He ended up deciding to take his talents to Ohio State.
In his true freshman season, Spence played in 11 of the team’s 12 games, and would’ve played in the one he missed had it not been for an injury. As a true sophomore, Spence was a full-time starter – quite a feat for such a prestigious university. He recorded eight sacks during that season and 14.5 tackles for loss, all while just 19 years old.
But as his performance on the field shined, his time as a Buckeye would soon fade dim. At the 2013 Big Ten Championship game, Spence failed his first drug test where he lied to his coaches and family members about knowing how he failed it. After being suspended for three games, Spence went on to fail another drug test in 2014, testing positive for Ecstasy. The second suspension not only kicked him out of Ohio State, but he was also told that he was also permanently banned from the Big Ten as a whole, just days before his team would go on to win the Big Ten title and eventually the national championship.
DE Noah Spence – Photo courtesy of EKU
Not many players come back from that. The odds are against them.
“I had tears in my eyes,” Spence said. “I forced myself to watch it (the national championship). The whole thing. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and I messed it all up.”
Through the help of his former head coach, Urban Meyer, Spence was able to enroll at Eastern Kentucky University. It was there that Spence found his shot a redemption in the game a football, a shot that he himself admitted he didn’t think he would ever get again. At EKU, in 2015, Spence recorded 11.5 sacks with 22.5 tackles for loss. Because of his impressive statistical accumulation, and the fact that he had been clean of all drug tests since his ban from the Big Ten, Spence was invited to the Senior Bowl where he put on an incredible performance in front of all 32 NFL teams.
As the NFL Draft came, Spence didn’t have to stare at his TV and watch his dreams pass before him like he did for the Buckeye’s national championship. Instead, he was able to watch his name come across the screen and hear the commissioner call his name as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.
“[The one thing I’ve learned] Stay humble, and keep God first through it all.”
“[The one thing I’ve learned] Stay humble, and keep God first through it all.”
Background is important. To truly predict where players, or even people in general, are going to go or the ceiling they have, you first have to understand where they’ve been. That’s the story of where Spence has been as a person. When you hear something like that, maybe it’s not as “unbelievable” as you once thought that this kid played half his rookie season in Tampa Bay with a torn labrum, including his shoulder popping out of place in the team’s last game – he’s tough as nails; he has to be.
But, what about as a prospect turned into a player? What about that background? There’s been tons of talk about defensive versatility, defensive schemes, defensive fronts, all that jazz. But, no matter which of those we’ve been talking about, one constant, or one name, seems to always come up. That name is Noah Spence.
Spence is a key part of this team because what the defense can get out of him will have a big say in what they can do overall as a unit. So, how versatile is Spence really? Can he play on both sides of the line? Has he? What about interchanging his positions from defensive end to linebacker like Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike Smith has mentioned? Has Spence done that?
Let’s take a look.
So, the short answer is, “yes”. Spence has played a good amount of stand-up linebacker in both of the programs he played college ball with – on some recruiting sites Spence was even labeled an outside linebacker.
Spence also is not bound to one side of the field, as we’ll see with his rookie chart in just a second. He has no problem going from one side of the field to the other, or taking on either right or left tackles. He’s athletic enough to play on both sides of the line, and his film lines up with these charted statistics.
Now, let’s look at where Spence lined up during his rookie season with the Buccaneers and see if we see a pattern.
(via Pro Football Focus)
Unfortunately, I didn’t get my hands on the PFF pro chart until after I had watched and charted all of Spence’s college games myself, so forgive me if the positions are a bit different. In PFF’s chart, “LEO” and “REO” (left and right) simply mean a 4-3 defensive end that is lined up in a wide-9 position, which is the position that speed pass rusher take far outside of the trenches.
The screenshot above is an example of both of the defensive ends playing in the wide-9 position. I just wanted to provide that because even if I think I explain something in simple terms, it’s always nice to have a visual. In the play above, Spence is on your right (defense’s left). See how he’s far away from the offensive tackle? If you remember the defensive alignment numbers from last week that go from 0-tech (right over the head of the center) all the way to the 9-tech (where Spence is), that’s why they call it “wide-9.” It’s still technically a 4-3 defensive end, but now hopefully you’re starting to see that more goes into a position than just the name.
So, that’s the position Spence was in the most during his first year in the NFL. Though I didn’t chart my college notes of Spence the same way, he was very often in the same position at Ohio State that he was in with the Buccaneers. If you watch his tape from 2013, his alignment is very similar. There are some similarities in his Eastern Kentucky tape as well, after all, they wanted to get the most out of him as a speed rusher, too. However, they also needed Spence’s raw talent in run support, so he played more 4-3, 5-tech at EKU.
In conclusion, by the numbers, Spence can play anywhere. There is nothing in his college tape that suggests he wouldn’t be open to, both in mindset and in talent, having an interchangeable position much like he did at Ohio State as the team’s premiere speed rusher standing up or with his hand in the ground.
Does his film agree? click the next page to find out.
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t have Spence in coverage but have him consistently rush even if he were to be a lb
I wish he was an inch or two taller and 10-20 pounds heavier; in other words I believe he is a tweener. He’s fast and quick, but his oppenents have film on him too Trevor. I don’t think he can handle the run between the guard and tackle. Again, it’s just what I’m seeing and it’s not worth much at all.
Ohio State played him in that 4-3 Under or even in a 3-4 like role and he really shined. But, I also feel like he played with more confidence.
I do wonder how his body transformation this summer is going to play out. I would think he should have been gaining a little weight, but maybe he’s trying to play much more of a speed role. That will be what I’ll be monitoring the most once he gets the pads one. Will there be a big difference in explosiveness.
With the addition of Chris Baker, I think this a formidable line. I think this will help Noah’s numbers. When the defense is really solid overall, and the players get a second year under Smitty, I wonder how Noah compares to a young Von Miller? I believe that he has the potential to be one of the NFL sack leaders. If this Jameis offense starts to take off as advertised, there are going to be a lot of teams throwing the ball to catch up. Bottom line, I think Noah’s numbers are going to be “arking” upward.
“Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure.” ― J.K. Rowling
Nice play on words e. lol.
I agree with this. If Baker plays as well as he has in the past, and don’t forget about Ayers and Jacquies Smith, too. Throwing a lot at offensive lines and confusing them will benefit a speed player like Spence.
I think his play time last year was perfect for him. He was coming in as a high prospect, but not someone who was going to dominate immediately. You want to get him reps to develop, but so much that if he struggles it’s not affecting the outcome of the game,
The expectations are higher this year, so he will probably get more playing time. You still want to have different guys rotate in so that guys are always fresh and that O-Lineman have to prepare for more than 1 guy. Being 100% healthy, and retaining what he learned in his rookie year, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets double digit sacks. With the taalent we have now, it is going to be difficult for offenses to decide who to double team.
As stated by other posters the addition of Baker will help. If McCoy and Baker can collapse the pocket so QBs can’t step up and burn us Spence might be able to sneak in and nab the QB. Don’t discount having Jaq Smith back either. More help the better.
I wrote my comment above without seeing this one! Great minds, chetthevette
The 3-4 is getting out of hand they’re not changing their base defense but they will be more multiple. I take that as they’re going to be able to do a lot of different things.
Teams that succeed at doing different things have a stable of players that do different things. I say that to say this, whatever his role is he needs to focus on it and show up.
6.5 won’t cut it, I want to see him show up and show out IN HIS ROLE. 9 sack minimum this year or move on.
Don’t settle for okay, let’s keep growing.
Thanks Trevor. Yes, honestly I was hoping for more- but when you factor in the injury that he played with most of the year , that was a helluv an effort , and you’ve got to give him props! With Spence and Jacq both playing healthy, I’m excited with the speed from the outside
I’m glad that he deemed football more important than drugs. Godspeed Mr. Spence
Go Bucs !!!
Interesting article and breakdown Trevor thank you. I’m not as nuanced at all the details but I noticed right away the kids motor. He is relentless and is tough as hell playing with that shoulder. If he and the rest of this D line stay healthy I really feel he may have a huge year. Like double digit sack type year.
Great job Trevor.
Loved the Penn State tape. When I saw that tape when I was studying his college film I just knew he had to be a guy we had high on our board. He dominated Donovan Smith in that game, and we had Smith penciled in as our franchise left tackle, pretty impressive stuff.
I was happy with what we go from Noah in his rookie year, especially considering 75% of guys in his position probably wouldn’t have played through the shoulder injury. I’m excited to see what he can do if he’s fully healthy in 2017. If we learned anything during his rookie season it might be the most important thing, he’s tough as hell and has some serious heart and love for the game…we already knew he was talented as all hell.
As far as playing in a 3-4…I just don’t think we have the personnel to do that on any kind of a regular basis. We don’t have anyone who we know can be a really good nose tackle. Gerald McCoy as a 3-4 end would be kind of a waste of his talents, as his first step quickness would not play as big of a role…and I’m not sure what you do with Chris Baker in that formation. He probably isn’t big enough to play nose and not athletic and long enough to play 3-4 end. It just seems like a bad fit and a waste of our player’s talents. I also think Kwon and Lavonte would be way undersized to spend any amount of meaningful time as 3-4 linebackers. Now do I think we could use Noah as a stand up rusher in certain situations? Hell yeah I do. I could see 3-3-5 formations in passing downs where you use Noah as a stand up rusher just to mix things up and create mismatches…or even just playing out of a 4-3 and using him as a linebacker to bring as a blitzer or spy a guy like Cam Newton. I definitely think he’s a chess piece worth using any way you can, but Spence is the one guy who looks like he might be a good fit for a 3-4, the rest of the defense looks like a very questionable fit. Stick with what they do best.
Spence impressed me last year. I like the idea of Smitty finding more ways to get him involved this year whether it’s as a DE or LB. Ayers isn’t getting any younger and I think Spence/Gholston is a nice edge combination going forward. The Dline as a whole has gotten better this year and I look forward to seeing opposing QBs picking themselves up off the turf very often.
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