Thank you for making last week’s SR’s Fab 5 column about former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden a record-setter with nearly 40,000 reads! It was a great weekend for as every major national media outlet picked up our breaking news about Gruden preparing to return to coaching. Now let’s turn the focus to Bucs training camp, shall we?

SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, 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. Spence “A Vicious Animal” For Bucs Defense

Tampa Bay defensive end Noah Spence was quiet last year in the locker room. The Bucs’ second-round pick in 2016 was overly humble and perhaps a bit wary of the media.

Spence’s answers were short as he let his play on the field do the talking. His rookie season saw him record 5.5 sacks and force three fumbles – with a dislocated shoulder and his arm in a harness after the first month of the season, too.

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

Not exactly a loud rookie season, but not quiet, either. In fact, Spence’s rookie campaign was similar to that of Vic Beasley, Jr., who had four sacks two forced fumbles and an interception as Atlanta’s first-round pick in 2015. Last year, Beasley erupted for an NFL-leading 15.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and one fumble recovery for a touchdown en route to his first Pro Bowl berth.

The Bucs feel like Spence, who has reduced his body fat and is up to a chiseled 242 pounds, is ready for a breakout season similar to the one Beasley had last year. The way Spence has started off training camp as an unblockable force, don’t bet against him.

“It can happen,” Bucs defensive tackle Clinton McDonald said. “This is his second year and Noah definitely has the explosiveness. He has the bend off the edge and the motor to get those things done and be a 15-sack guy. He can sack, fumble, pick it up and run 50 yards for a touchdown. He has the speed for it. With that combination you can look at this guy and see he has a bright future here.”

This year, Spence is no longer a wide-eyed rookie. His eyes have the look of determination. The shoulder injury that hampered him last year is now a distant memory and he’s eager to show Tampa Bay – and more importantly the Bucs’ opponents – what he can really do with two healthy arms.

“I feel great,” Spence said. “I love it. I really couldn’t play and be myself last year. Now I feel so much better and more like myself. It’s going to be fun this year.”

It’s not going to be fun for opposing offensive tackles. Just ask Bucs offensive tackles Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson, who have to battle him every day in practice as Spence plays both left and right defensive end.

“The one thing I like about Noah is that he brings an attitude with him,” Dotson said. “He doesn’t like to lose. The guy has a long way to go, obviously, but he’s a guy that is willing to work. He competes every day out here. He wasn’t out here during OTAs and he’s coming out here at camp going hard and making up for lost time. His upside is great. The sky is the limit for him.”

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

Spence has been quite the challenge for Smith, who has been getting a lot of work on trying to stop the Eastern Kentucky product’s inside move.

“Noah is good, man,” Smith said. “He’s a very agile guy who can bend and go inside real quick or he can take you outside. He is fast off the ball. It just benefits us. The tackles are getting work against him the way he changes his rushes. He is real good.”

I asked Spence the most valuable lesson he learned as a rookie and it was how to play head games with offensive tackles – something he is just beginning to do in practice with Smith and Dotson.

“Donovan is good when you just keep trying to run around him and run around him,” Spence said. “I’ve had to switch it up and try to lull him to sleep and work him inside. When you make him move like that he doesn’t like it.

“I’ve had to learn this year that you can’t win every rep. It’s like a chess match – you take a couple reps to make them think that’s what you’re going to do and then switch it up. It’s getting a lot easier for me. It’s about setting guys up in this league. Last year I didn’t know that. I thought I had to win every rep. Now I know the importance of setting guys up. It’s a mind game. Once I learned that it’s gotten a lot easier for me.”

While Spence has always been highly interested in the X’s and O’s McDonald has noticed him step up his game from a strategic standpoint even more.

“Noah is becoming a great student of the game,” McDonald said. “He is learning that this is not about win, win, win. It’s setting it up for the next play. Not every play is going to be your play, but the way he works hard and the way he hustles he allows the plays to come to him.

Bucs DE Noah Spence and LT Donovan Smith - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs DE Noah Spence and LT Donovan Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“By him working hard on his technique and his assignment on the lineman, he is able to make more plays. He is learning, and his status as a second-year player, he wants to be a Pro Bowl guy and a rush-type guy. Noah is very experienced and coachable as well.”

Despite Spence missing the offseason while recovering from shoulder surgery, Tampa Bay defensive line coach Jay Hayes is happy with his progress a week into training camp.

“Really what I try to teach him is you have to take what people are giving you,” Hayes said. “If someone is giving you their hands you have to see it. They have to use their vision and see what people are doing. [Offensive linemen] only got two hands they can hit you with. If you see those and carry your hands high then you will be able to counter what is happening to you. Don’t let them touch you on your body.

“With Noah that is really big because he is not the biggest guy. If someone gets their hands on him they are going to stop him. He’s got to do a great job at keeping people’s hands off him and he is.”

Veteran Bucs defensive end Robert Ayers, Jr. suggested Spence could be a “15-sack guy” in the offseason and appreciates the cerebral approach the young pass rusher has shown thus far in the NFL.

“This game is 90 percent mental,” Ayers said. “You have to be able to handle the mental part of it. You can’t just go out there thinking you are going to out-muscle everybody. You have to out-think everybody. Sometimes you beat people mentally and get a sack. He’s striving to figure that out and it’s great to see a young guy figure it out so fast.”

Bucs DE Noah Spence and RT Leonard Wester - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs DE Noah Spence and RT Leonard Wester – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Ayers has noticed Spence’s personality come to the surface more this year. He’s way past his rookie status.

“He is a lot more confident and I told him that the other day,” Ayers said. “He seems like he is playing with a lot more swag. He believes in himself and he knows what to expect. He’s playing faster. I’ve told him nobody can block him and he believes that. He’s working his ass off. I think he has a chip on his shoulder because he got hurt last year and couldn’t do the things he wanted to do. He got nicked up a little bit last year, but now he is motivated. It’s going to be a fun year for him. He is angry right now and wants to get after it.”

As Tampa Bay’s most undersized defensive lineman at 6-foot-2, 242, Spence knows he needs to improve in the run game, but defensive end Will Gholston says he’s shown improvement and believes Spence’s mentality is the reason why.

“He can play the run pretty well, too.” Gholston said. “He’s improved. In camp he has been a vicious animal. I say that in the best way I can because he is a defensive lineman. I like his intensity and his preparation. We sit next to each other in the meeting rooms. I don’t even have to remind him and tell him to take notes because he is always taking notes. It’s going to be a great year for him, I know it.”

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  1. Thanks, Scott.

    Most of the off-season/pre-season talk about the Bucs has focused on the offense. The defense, however, is also going to be very good, I think. Subject to injury, we have more talent on the D this year, and the guys who learned Coach Smith’s defense last year will carry that over to this season.

    We should keep in mind that if the defense plays better and allows fewer points, there will be less pressure on Jameis Winston and the offense to try and score when playing behind the opponent. Most of Jameis’s INTs over his two seasons (25 out of 33) happened when the opponent had the lead, so Jameis naturally had to play more aggressively to keep up. If the D keeps opposing teams down on the scoreboard, our offense will likely play better with fewer turnovers.

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    • Wow, I didn’t know that stat about Jameis’ interceptions. thanks for pointing that out.

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    • Naples, your stat on Winston having to be more aggressive because the defense allowed them to fall behind is misleading. Of those 25 Int’s thrown by Winston when trailing, 16 of them came when trailing by 7 points or less. If the defense is playing good enough to keep it a 1 score game, you shouldn’t have to play more aggressively and force the ball to your receivers. Of those remaining 9 Int’s, 5 came after Winston had thrown a pick 6, fumbled for a TD, and or had thrown multiple Int’s in the game prior that putting the Bucs down by more than 7. So in all actuality, only 4 of his Int’s came when the defense was playing poorly and Winston was forced to be more aggressive after trailing by more than a TD. The stat I found most interesting when researching this info was that 5 of Winston’s Ints came on the Bucs opening drive. Of those 5 games, we lost 4 of them (Titans 2015 week 1, Carolina 2015 week 4, Arizona 2016 week 2, and broncos 2016 week 4)and after he threw an Int to start the game he threw a combined 8 more Ints in those games.

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      • Thanks, but I don’t believe a stat can be “misleading”. It is just a stat, and if you don’t think it’s meaningful, that’s fine.

        A competitive guy like Jameis probably feels that it’s his responsibility to get a lead and keep it, and he feels under more pressure when the other side has the lead. Maybe that’s not wrong. But it’s undeniable that most of his INTs took place when playing from behind.

        I am also fairly certain that Jamies is probably less likely to take big chances with ball security when he has a lead than when his team is behind. That would be human nature, that’s pretty much how all players play.

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        • Your missing the point of my post Naples. Its not the defenses fault Winston throws all those INTs. They played good enough where Winston should have to try and force throws and play more aggressive. Its Winston’s fault he feels that way. Being competitive has nothing to do with it. 2 of the best QBs ever Brady and Montana both were and are extremely competitive. What separates them for the rest of the QBs is there ability to stay cool when trailing and not try to force anything even when trailing by multiple TDs. Once Winston learns this, he will make the jump from average to great, he will throw less INts, and we will win more games. SInce you don’t think stats are misleading, here is a stat for you. The bucs have been behind for 79% of the time since Winston was drafted. Each game is 60 minutes times 32 games equals 32 hours. 79% of 32 hours is just over 25.05 hours. WInston has thrown 25 Ints in 25.05 hours of trailing which is about 1 every hour when trailing. The Bucs have not been trailing for 21% or 7 hours. In that time Winston has thrown 9 Ints. 7 divided by 9 =.78 or roughly every 45 minutes. So stats say Winston throws more Ints when winning per hour than when trailing. Interesting

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          • Sorry, i meant to divide by 8. So 7 divided by 8 =88 or every 52 minutes. Winston still throws more INTs when leaded per minute.

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          • Saying that the defense playing better is at fault for Winston’s INTs was not my point at all. The defense needed to play better than it did under our prior several defensive coaches, just because the defense wasn’t good then. It got much better under Coach Smith in the second half of last season after they began to understand and play within his system, which was completely different than what they played under the previous several DCs.

            Strong defenses always help offenses play better than they would otherwise. Strong defenses relieve pressure from being behind in the score, as I pointed out. Strong defenses even score points themselves. Strong defenses give the offense more opportunities to score, and they also give better field position to offenses.

            These are just facts. That’s why teams with very strong defenses tend to win championships more often than do teams with great offenses but mediocre defenses.

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  2. Congrats Scott, Mark, Trev & crew on your rapid ascension as the go-to place for Bucs info! You guys are passionate, knowledgable and thorough with your reporting and it shows. I still think that Spence will be gracing the top of the sack leader board one day in the future. I’m glad that he has sorted out the issues that kept him from being drafted higher. As far as Conte, if you want everyone to forget about your past, make us remember your future! Being the only white guy on the defense was probably something John Lynch heard a lot over the years too. A player like Eli Manning had a bust label on him for the first five or six years of his career and then, all of a sudden, it clicked for him. Be the ball, Danny.

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  3. Jeez Conte agrees to do a training camp diary and you guys start churning put puff pieces on him, absolving him of all sins.

    I especially love the narrative that Pewter Report alone has fabricated, that fans don’t like Conte just because he “resembles Piscitelli” lol what? No we don’t like him cause we’re tired of seeing guys run into the end zone past him.

    Obviously you can’t put it all on one guy, but selectively choosing to ignore the fact that this guy is one of the bottom rated safeties in the league for years is frightening to see from a site that covers my team. Rose tinted glasses much? PFF rated him the 2nd worse safety in the league last year.

    Tandy stepped in and had the highest rating of any safety in those last 6 games he played. That’s not an accident.

    Look I want the guy to do well, he’s on my team. But to now have to read stuff that blames the fans for being to hard on him, when his play has warranted so much critiscm, that’s not great.

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    • This was no puff piece.

      The coaches like Conte a lot. Maybe you should listen to them. I think they are better judges of their players than any of us.

      I never understood why particular players, such as Conte, or Gerald McCoy,get picked on by a group of negative nanny fans … it’s kind of a group think thing.

      We had terrible coaching when Conte got here … which was why the Glazers and Jason Licht fired them. Coach Smith is a godsend for defensive coaching, and when Chris Conte and the rest of the defense finally learned his completely different system by the second half of last season, they (including Conte) performed superbly, in the top 2 or 3 defenses in the league in key parameters like take-aways and stopping third down conversions.

      If that’s not good enough for you, then maybe you oughta find another team with a bandwagon you can jump on. I’m realy happy to see our defense get a lot better last season. Hoping and expecting that the improvement continues.

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  4. I had some reservations about Spence when the Bucs drafted him. His off field issues and his size.
    After getting hurt and still played shows a lot of GRIT and I hope he has a great carrier.

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  5. If Spence and Conte can stay healthy, this obviously will be a big plus for the Defense and should move us into a Playoff Spot. Go Bucs!

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  6. Congratulations Scott on your sites continued an0 increased popularity. It’s certainly the site I visit first to get my cherished Buccaneer intel,
    Enjoyed the section n Barber and although I think he will probably work into being a good back and was excited and overjoyed to see his highlight run against the 49ers, lets faces it, my little sister (she’s 60) could have made it through that hole but probably not into the end zone. Good burst but a lousy 40 time.
    I’d like to see a Mr. August performance ala Ernest Graham for Barber to up his confidence quotient. He isn’t afraid to run inside the tackles which is something I don’t think Charles Simms enjoys doing.
    WNB035 laid down something interesting and enlightening stats that are worth noting. I always thought Winston came out to amped up at the beginning of the games which caused him to be off target and throw those INTs. A simple solution to chucking the ball down to RBs and some easier routes might help him settle down in the beginning of the games.
    As for Rut, he sounds like one of those Buc fans who needs to have a ceremonial scape goat to the blame any defensive woe on.
    It’s hardly a puff piece when you have a fellow safety who is battling for the same position come to his defense and also verify some of the observations I have made about Conte’s play. The first is how many game saving tackles Conte has made.
    The second was his coverage in the Cardinals, Raiders TD plays.
    I also distinctly remember Tandy getting beaten badly on a TD pass against the Rams but I don’t remember anyone roasting him about that through the course of last season and they shouldn’t have. It was one play during a game which the entire defense played poorly, just like in the Raiders and Cardinals game.
    Give it a rest Rut. The coaches aren’t listening to you.
    As for any Bear fan, who might be here, things didn’t get any better for them after he left and in some ways, they have gotten worse.
    You guys deserve the dynamic Mie Glennon and the ham fisted way you went about drafting your No. 1 pick.
    It couldn’t have happened to a better more obnoxious group of drunker morons unless it was Cowboy, Steeler, Giant, Eagle, Raider or Carolina fan.

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    • Absolutely correct my friend. Fans here have always anointed someone as the scapegoat. Often it is one of the better players. They hear or read something negative, merely echo it and then infer that they’ve done some grandiose evaluation to reach their biased, ill conceived conclusion, typically without the benefit of fact. No consideration is ever given regarding a players youth, inexperience, health status or opportunity. Rookies are expected to be instant stars. No true comparisons are ever made to other team’s players. We hear players being called “too small” when their size is comparable to others at their position. We hear them called “too short” when most others are of similar “length.” We hear them called “too slow” when they are in the middle of the speed range. We hear them called “injury prone” as if there are players immune from getting dinged. They see a player get beat on one play without recognizing the other 50 that were successful. The worst is when the opinion is proven to be false and they hold onto it with a death grip, refusing (like Fonzie and my mother in law) to admit they were wrong.

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      • Yup, Scu

        I clearly remember the 2015 season when Mike Evans’ head was being called for by a small but very noisy cabal of Bucs fans because of his drops. Some of those dudes were calling Mike a “bust”, incredibly. Of course, they failed to note that half of his season’s total of drops occurred in a single game, during torrential downpour of rain. A game in which Mike Evans led all receivers in receiving yards and catches, one of his biggest game totals of the season in which he recorded his second consecutive 1,000+ yard season in the league. Comments were made to the tune of “Evans is careless” … “Evans doesn’t care” … “Evans is just a showboater” …. blah … blah… blah

        Some people look for scapegoats for psychological reasons that are beyond my ken to understand. It’s very annoying to real fans of the game of football.

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        • N FAN I agree with you!
          I did however wonder if he may turn out like Mike Williams and maybe some others also did also. That did not happen. I am REALLY happy he is a Buc, and he almost unstoppable.

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  7. First of all, congrats Scott on finally getting the national exposure you and this publication deserve. The Jon Gruden interview was spot-on and will be referenced to more and more as this season moves on and head coaching hot seats develop…….

    That being said, I hope one of the hot seats is NOT here. I am a Koetter fan all the way, and the longer Mike Smith remains as DC the better our chances to return to a perennial playoff contender.

    Looking forward to Hard Knocks premiere……….

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