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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.

FAB 1. Can The Bucs Salvage Spence?

There may not be another Buccaneer that needs a fresh start in 2019 more than defensive end Noah Spence.

Or should I say outside linebacker Noah Spence?

New Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is expected to run a good amount of 3-4 Under defense, and a position change could be coming for Spence.

At this point in his career, Spence would likely welcome any change that can get his career revved up. Spence, the team’s second-round pick in 2016, enters a critical fourth year in Tampa Bay.

After a promising rookie season in which Spence used his speed and athleticism to record 22 tackles, 5.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and two passes defensed, his NFL career isn’t stuck in neutral. It’s actually in reverse.

Spence’s shoulder injury has been well documented. He suffered a dislocation during his rookie season that required he play with a harness. Spence showed toughness in fighting through the pain and discomfort and was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month in November of 2016 with 11 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

That seems like ages ago.

Spence had shoulder surgery in the 2017 offseason, but that didn’t correct the problem as planned, and after recording a sack-fumble in the 2017 season opener against Chicago, Spence suffered a dislocation of his shoulder again and was placed on injured reserve after six games, notching just nine tackles in his second year in the NFL. Spence was finally healthy last year, and added nearly 20 pounds of muscle to hold up better in run defense.

But he and new defensive line coach Brentson Buckner didn’t see eye-to-eye, and Spence didn’t make things happen from a pass-rushing standpoint in the preseason when it mattered most. That caused him to be buried on the depth chart behind new defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry and Carl Nassib. Spence was inactive for four games and contributed just three tackles and no sacks in very limited playing time.

The Big Takeaway
Spence will get a clean slate to start 2019, and the potential move to outside linebacker in Bowles’ 3-4 defense could revitalize his career in the nick of time. After watching tape on Spence from his rookie year, the Bucs’ new coaching staff is eager to work him, which has to be music to the ears of general manager Jason Licht, who spent a second-round pick on the former Eastern Kentucky defensive end.

Playing weakside linebacker behind Jason Pierre-Paul in Bowles’ attacking, one-gap scheme could allow Spence the chance to live up to his potential and do what he was brought to Tampa Bay to do – get after the quarterback as a stand-up rusher.

After Spence’s rookie season, veteran defensive end Robert Ayers, Jr. said that Spence could be a 15-sack guy in 2017. Bucs right tackle Demar Dotson told me back in training camp that Spence could very well be a double-digit sacker last year.

Bucs DE Noah Spence
Bucs DE Noah Spence – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“To me personally, and I think the most improved guy that I’ve seen on that defensive line, and the guy I’m most impressed with is Noah,” Dotson said in August. “He’s picked up 25, 30 pounds. When I saw him in the offseason I thought it would mess up his speed. But I’ve seen him out here in training camp and he’s got good speed off of the edge, he’s working more moves and he’s got more power now. He’s a guy where I’m really thinking could go out there and have 10 plus sacks.”

Of course, that never happened, but it doesn’t mean it can’t happen with a new position, a new scheme and a new position coach in Larry Foote, who will lead Tampa Bay’s outside linebackers.

I spoke with Spence near the end of the regular season in December and his demeanor was a mixture of frustration with the lack of playing time and production, as well as the relief that the year was coming to a close and that change would be coming to Tampa Bay.

‘It’s a learning process, trying to get better every day,” Spence said. “You come out and count your blessings and work and try to become better every day.”

Spence made the most of his time behind the scenes, learning from veterans like Pierre-Paul and Curry.

Bucs D-Linemen Vinny Curry, Jason Pierre-Paul, Gerald McCoy and Noah Spence - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs D-Linemen Vinny Curry, Jason Pierre-Paul, Gerald McCoy and Noah Spence – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“To be able to learn from these types of dudes – legends – man, it’s a blessing,” Spence said. “Being in the same room with them and seeing how they work and how they come to work with a certain attitude every day. It’s good to help me in the future and to try and build on. That’s all I can do.”

Quotes That Matter
Curry appreciated how Spence would ask questions and pay close attention to the Bucs’ veteran defensive linemen in the classroom and on the practice field.

“Noah’s coming into his own,” Curry said. “He comes to work every day and busts his ass, works really, really hard, but he’s coming off of an injury. Like I said, he’s coming right into his own so when his time comes, he’ll be ready. What is Noah – 24 or something like that? He’s got a lot of NFL life ahead of him and the Bucs have a great player in Noah Spence.

“He’s a special player, a special teammate, a great guy to be around and he shows high energy, he’s energetic. He’s the guy you want in the foxhole with you. He’s got heart. He’s got a lot of football ahead of him and he’s going to be a great player for the Bucs.”

Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has always been in Spence’s corner and has seen the work he’s put in behind the scenes.

Bucs DE Noah Spence - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs DE Noah Spence – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“Noah’s always been a hard worker,” McCoy said. “He gives it everything he’s got, day in and day out. Those are just the growing pains of being a professional. Noah hasn’t even started yet. We’ve all seen guys bloom late, blossom late – on the team they’re on now or other teams. He’s just got to stay the course.”

Spence has two things going for him as he heads into the 2019 offseason. He’s been healthy for over a year and he’s comfortable playing at a heavier weight.

“I was at 228 – 230 [in 2017] pounds,” Spence said. “Even after practicing right now I’m 256. That’s good. The shoulder feels good. I knew it was okay when I started hitting people in practice and I didn’t feel it. When I would hit people before it would lock up a little bit and I would have to try to get it back in and better. Now, it’s just perfect. It’s a blessing, for sure.”

The FABulous Ending
Spence told me that last season was “more of a learning year – and I am learning.” Buckner preferred to play the bigger defensive linemen rather than the 6-foot-2, 256-pound Spence, who was the smallest player in the D-line room. While there was some mutual frustration at times between the two, it was never personal, and Spence appreciated Bucker wanting to develop Spence’s mental approach to rushing the passer and playing defensive end.

“Honestly, before Coach Buck, I was just the type of player that played off athleticism and just went out there and really didn’t know the game that well,” Spence said. “He made me kind start over and just learn the basics and learn the whole game of football instead of just going out there and relying on my athletic ability and just running around. He’s made me use my brain to play the game. It’s a blessing to have him around and teach the different things we do on defense with the schemes and knowing why I would do something to help fit with another person on the defense, and knowing you can’t just go out there and freelance.”

Bucs DE Noah Spence and DL coach Brentson Buckner - Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers
Bucs DE Noah Spence and DL coach Brentson Buckner – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers

The Bucs have not given up on Spence, and will likely choose to keep him on the roster over veterans like Curry and McCoy due to salary cap reasons. Spence is in the final year of his rookie contract and is scheduled to make $1,920,642 in 2019 – if he makes the team – compared to McCoy, who is set to earn $13 million and Curry, who is slated to make $8 million.

Spence will need to be a quick study in learning Bowles’ defense and making the switch to outside linebacker if the Bucs switch to a 3-4 Under scheme as expected. It’s a big year for Spence’s future in Tampa Bay, but the new coaches are optimistic about his future from what they’ve seen so far in the film room.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

33 COMMENTS

  1. A block-shedding tackling machine like Ed Oliver is my hope when the card is turned in.

    Devin White does seem like a great prospect. He would definitely have immediate rapport with whichever LSU linebackers(Kwon/Minter/Beckwith) are left on the team.

    Someone has to replace McCoy though. Vea and Oliver would wreak havoc.

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    • On a trade down yes for sure but not at 5. Oliver will be there at the 10-15 range

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    • I’d be happy with the Bucs picking Oliver or White. I think it will boil down to: 1. what the Bucs do with McCoy, 2. Free agency moves, and 3. Alexander and Beckwith’s rehab progress. Another way to put this is that if Alexander and / or Beckwith were healthy, I wouldn’t waste that pick on another linebacker and I’d be shouting for Ed Oliver in the 1st round until the cows come home.

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  2. I really hope the new staff can revive Spence’s career, but I’m tired of all the hype surrounding him. The truth is on one of the worst defenses in the NFL he never saw the field. Talent rises above scheme, and fit, if Spence showed he could get to the Q.B. during preseason games he would’ve played. I watched him go one, on one against third teamers in that last preseason game, and he got completely stone walled. You either have that God given ability, or you don’t. Von Miller would be sacking Q.B.’s in any scheme. From what I’ve seen of Spence he’s been a waste of a roster spot. Time to put up, or hit the road. I’m warming up more to White being our first pick, just hope we trade down, and still get him. The Bucs need better size at LB. Don’t mind a one year prove it deal for Kwon, but that’s it. Learning a new defense, and not being able to hit the grass for OTA’s, and most likely training camp will put him behind the 8 ball. Both him, and David are undersized, and have trouble getting off blocks. Having the fast, strong White in the middle might be the tone setter this defense has been missing for years.

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    • Talent does rise above scheme, but it doesn’t necessarily rise above coaching abilities or biases, especially if that player needs some additional development as Spence did. For whatever reason, Buckner didn’t want Spence involved much at all. None of us really has any insight into that situation, so all we really know at this point is that Spence is still with the Bucs and Buckner isn’t.

      I remember when Rice’s talent was being wasted in Phoenix and he first came to the Bucs. He was only getting 5-7 sacks a season if I remember correctly (?), changed scene and changed schemes and finally reached his potential.

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      • Right – I watched Spence in training camp last summer and was impressed with his speed and strength. Was surprised when he disappeared during the season.

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  3. I thought the concern about Spence coming into the draft as a 3-4 LB was his slow 40m time.

    I wanted the Bucs to pickup Hunt off the Waiver Wire when the Chiefs cut him. We would’ve had him under his Rookie contract which wouldn’t cost as much as trying to sign him as Free Agent now even in his current situation. We could’ve pressed the NFL to suspend him immediately to count towards any games that he would miss. In that situation they would’ve had his rights but not have to pay him. By serving the punishment in 2018 it would mean missing less games in 2019 if any depending on the number of games he got. Now any team that signs him has to wait for the NFL to hand down punishment after they sign him and serve it. If they didn’t want him to play for the Bucs and take the PR hit, then they could’ve traded his rights to someone that wanted him. If you state up front that you only signed him so that you can trade him later, then no PR hit.

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    • Just a few thoughts on your Hunt ideas…

      The collective bargaining agreement ensures players don’t serve immediate suspensions. There is a process and it takes forever. I’m not sure when Hunt would start serving a suspension if he’s picked up by a new team. Could be mid year or later. Could be across two seasons. Who knows how many games he’ll get?

      If the Bucs signed him and decided they didn’t want to take a PR hit, as you put it, and decided to trade the player away, would his value take a hit since he just signed with a new team? Im thinking about Kelvin Benjamin as an example. Bills gave up quite a bit in a trade to Carolina to get him and ended up releasing him. Kansas City didn’t even have to claim him off waivers. He was without a team for a while if memory serves.

      It seems couterintuitive to sign the player, take backlash from detractors, then come back and say we did it to trade him away, thus ticking off supporters of the move.

      Im not a fan of this player, truth be told. He has had 3 incidents in his short career according to the paper, plus he lied to his team about what happened. There are lots of RB’s that need a shot. Get one that’s got his head screwed on straight.

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      • The way I look at it is even if we only got a 7th rounder for him, it’s a pick that we didn’t have for a player that cost nothing to get.

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  4. I was just thinking same thing about pre season and watched him going up against 3rd and 4th string scrubs and never sniffed a QB. It was crazy to see really. Not sure what his issue is perhaps he wasn’t as healthy as they say. Who knows. I don’t have lot faith he will do much but would be nice not to write off draft pick that high. He will get best shot to do something now for sure in 3-4 with better coaches.

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  5. Nice piece on White. I particularly like the idea that he’s a high-character guy to go with all of his other talents. I’m still a big Jonah fan as well. No OT in the mock? I can’t see that. I’m assuming that the Bucs are going to end up trading out of the 5 spot. Dropping a few spots and picking up another 2nd, and still having a shot at either of the afore mentioned, would work for me.

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    • I was wondering about OT as well, I know he’s probably thinking to keep Smith at LT but what about RT? Dotson?? Cappa?? I hope we find a better solution.

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      • That’s definitely a concern, Ry… The tackles on both sides are big question marks. I did like the Lindstrom pick in the mock… Guard as well.

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        • I’d go OT in the first round. Hope they do trade back a bit tho. Would love to see an extra pick or 2 added. Devin White looks great but this team needs an Oline bad. I expect Bowles to work wonders with the LBs and DBs already here. The next corner blitz will be the first one i can recall in years. Gona be exciting seeing a defense trying to make plays rather than hoping for offensive mistakes.

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          • I can see them going OT in the first round only if they manage to renegotiate McCoy’s contract and he stays here. Or, if Alexander’s on schedule or ahead of schedule with rehab.

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  6. Yes, sign Hunt ASAP. Funny you brought up the Tampa Bay Times articles. It is becoming an unreadable newspaper. Their politics has always been way out there, but the Sports section used to be good at least.

    Scott, you list all the linebackers we have (including Spence and JPP) and then insist on drafting another one first round. I don’t get it. Not all of those injuries will be limiting. Lets work on the O Line and another cover corner first…

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  7. I am warming up to the idea of drafting White, but I still think there’s bigger needs along the OL, at DT if we release GMC, and probably in the secondary. All this becomes even more true if Beckwith comes back 100% from his ankle injury, which from all I’ve heard doesn’t appear to be career threatening or anything. Drafting White would essentially relegate Beckwith to backup duties, while we still have immediate starters at multiple other positions. Seems silly to make a good player a backup when we still yet to have a starting caliber RG or DT to replace McCoy.

    As for Spence, I really do hope he can return to form in Bowles defense. I don’t think people focus enough on how multiple shoulder injuries really damaged his career thus far, as arm usage is absolutely crucial to success as a pass rusher. Then on top of that, being asked to gain weight when his best attribute as a rookie was his explosiveness only damaged it further. In Bowles system, hopefully he can think less and get back to the basics as a situational pass rushing OLB…which is what he was projected as coming out of college anyways.

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  8. Selecting a middle linebacker would the last nail in Licht’s coffin. I’m sure White will be excellent – maybe he’ll even be the next Kwon Alexander in this league – but unless he can cover Julio Jones, pass rush Cam Newton, or pass block Cam Jordan, it’s a luxury pick at #5.

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    • Don’t forget, Arians and his staff will have a lot of input toward who we select. I, for one want Oliver, whether McCoy is here next season or not. But, if they, as an organization, decide White is their guy, I trust that B.A. and Bowles know what they’re doing.

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  9. Nice Fab 5 Scott. White does sound awesome but i still think if there is a DL or OL player with the same ranking or higher on our draft board where ever we end up picking then we should still work on the trenches which I feel is more important right now. GO BUCS!!!

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  10. In a draft with elite talent along the DL you guys keep mocking us a LB. If Licht has shown us anything about his drafts its that he can identify impact LBs outside the 1st round. Stop with this waste of a pick, it should be Ed Oliver plain and simple. If you want to sell me on trading back and selecting the huge guard from Oklahoma Ford then I’m on board with it. But we need help along the trenches. As for Spence, he couldn’t get on the field for a team that needed pass rushing help. Hoping this staff can fix him is one thing, actually expecting it would be crazy. He’s slow for his position, the trait most of Licht’s busts have in common. See VHIII and maybe even MJ for details. I hope somebody tells him that when push comes to shove draft the superior athlete, stop with the “hard nosed” but athletically inferior players.

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  11. We’ll see if Bowles and company can salvage Spence career, if not he’s likely done.

    Yes re-sign Minter…. And Kwon!

    No still pass on White.

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  12. Fennelly and Morono- I mean Romano- need to follow their equally bitter and hateful former colleague Tom Jones into the cesspool or sunset or wherever they send washed up has beens.

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  13. We need to trade back with a QB needy team and pick up another 2nd round pick. White would be great but seems to be more of a luxury pick, unless there’s already info that Alexander or Beckwith won’t be available for next season. I agree with most that the lines are where we need to focus first and foremost. I could get on board with trading down and still getting a top LB as long as there is trench help available for us with our extra picks, but other than that…no

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  14. Scott, this is a great piece of writing; on exactly the right subjects for this stage of the new regime. Excellent insights and thought-provoking analysis of the most critical issues for the Bucs. Its clear that you put good work and thought into this.
    You’re doing a great job of upping your game at Pewter Report. PR has the best Bucs coverage in the business, by far. Thanks for that. Keep growing.

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    • Sycophantic suck up! Except that you’re right. Pewter Report is my favorite website to go to because of the in-depth Bucs reporting, perspective, and of course, feedback fan boards!

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      • BucWild02, thanks for agreeing. And when your insights are better than your criticism, I’ll say something similar about your writing.

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        • Ouch! I better pour a glass of the good stuff to ease my pain from your criticism. Truth is, I just wanted to (finally) use the word “sycophantic”.

          Cheers!

          Go Bucs!

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  15. I have written about it before, Spence should have never been drafted by the BUCs. He is not a 4-3 defensive end. He was meant to be a 3-4 rushing Linebacker. He is not that great at stopping the run, but he is a rushing lb in a 3-4 system. He has wasted his time on a 4-3 team trying to be a rushing DE like Paul. He is just not quite big enough to be a 4-3 end. He tried to bulk up like one and it did not work. It just slowed him down. He will now need to be back to his original weight, get his speed up, and see if Todd Bowles can use him in one of the now available 4 linebacker positions. With the Buc’s injuries at LB and if Spence can show that rushing ability, he will make the 53 man roster for Bowles. He has no trade value. You can cut him, but you might be surprised and get a valuable rushing LB that can be out there every down in a 3-4 system. In a 4-3 system they could only use him once in a while, maybe.

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  16. Great in-depth article once again, Scott. However, those NFL Teams that want Turnstyle Smith for their LT should get a phone call from Licht offering to trade him to the highest bidder and get a draft pick for him and don’t waste a penny of our cap on Smith who can’t stop speed rushers and draws lots of holding penalties and he would be no better at RT for us. Then drop down in the First and still take either Bama’s or Mississippi’s LT. If you get a second first pick go after Oliver to replace McCoy when he retires even if he takes a reduced contract. Oliver would still need to play half each game to keep McCoy fresh for the fourth Quarter. By drafting a first round LT you protect our cap for many other needs on this team. Both Beckwith and Alexander must be thoroughly studied by medical experts to see if either will be able to play this season. If either one will pass on White. We will have Minter inside to pair with them and will likely have Cichy back and Bullough behind them and still David and Taylor could also play inside too. We should have David outside on the weak side to start and have Spence on the other side. And if both Alexander and Beckwith both come back Beckwith could play Outside on the strong side if Spence couldn’t cut it and Taylor is able to play either outside position.

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    • Why would a team allow the Bucs to negotiate on their behalf for Smith’s salary and trade a draft pick or two? Why would Smith sign a contract or accept the tag to begin with. As an UFA he has a pick of 31 other teams to see what he can get? The only other option would be to franchise him and trade him to someone willing not only to give him 14 million, but give the Bucs a draft picks – all this for a one year player, unless of course they both sign him to a long term deal and work out draft compensation with the Bucs since they aren’t aren’t going to give up two first round picks. Since all the “experts” say he is the top Free Agent Left Tackle and will certainly be overpaid, his agents would be nuts. If the Bucs move on, which I hope they will as a fan only. I acknowledge, however; the coaches are much more capable than me of knowing his ability) and may want him. Best bet is hope for a high compensatory pick.

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  17. By the way Spence never looked slow running down QBs from outside in his first year here. This year in preseason he could not get around LTs so there was no way to see if he was slow. JPP and GMC thought he was “fast” this year from practices against him so I have no idea where the idea he is slow comes from. JPP and GMC should know better from first hand experience. I thoroughly believe Spence can at last be developed properly to play outside strongside LB for the 3-4 base defense. With our second round pick this year we should grab Charles Omenahu from Texas so our Defense should be really scary for our opponents especially since Bowles teaches five or six new blitzes each week for our adversaries. I hope Bowles will go one step further this year and take some lessons from Clemson’s DC when beating Bama and learn how to disguise his defenses to set up interceptions. Also I hope BA will teach Jameis how to alter his cadence to trick opponents to jump off sides and get some free plays to throw deep. Koetter foolishly would not let Jameis do that.

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  18. It’s great that we have new trainers, but does anyone know if the medical staff was replaced?

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