A Deeper Look At Buccaneers’ DE Noah Spence

Feb 26, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Eastern Kentucky defensive lineman Noah Spence speaks to the media during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 26, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Eastern Kentucky defensive lineman Noah Spence speaks to the media during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports /

He could’ve, and likely should’ve, been a first round pick. However, the Buccaneers were able to draft Noah Spence in the second round because of his troubled past and will now reap the benefits of his continued road to redemption.

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November 2014 – the lowest point in young Noah Spence’s life. He was ruled permanently ineligible from Big-Ten athletics. Just two month prior, Spence had already been indefinitely suspended from Ohio State and his future was in question. See, Spence had begun running around with the wrong crowd – the party crowd – and found himself addicted to ecstasy. For a player well on the rise for a college team on the brink of championship glory, Spence was at a crossroads. Continue down this path of disappointment and inevitable failure, or step up and be a man,

Luckily for the Buccaneers, he chose the latter.

Noah Spence sat there the night of January 12, 2015, watching the Ohio State Buckeyes, his former team, throttle the Oregon Ducks 42-20. He didn’t want to watch, but he secluded himself and forced himself to do so. A team he would’ve been on, teammates he once had, hoisting the first ever BCS College Playoff National Championship trophy. “I had tears in my eyes. I forced myself to watch it. The whole thing. It was a once in a lifetime chance and I messed it all up,” Spence told FOX Sports back in October. Spence has learned the error of his ways and has pushed himself to be better. “I will never in my life forget that feeling. That feeling right there is always in my head whenever I do anything because I know I don’t ever want to go back again, hit rock bottom – and I know I won’t be back there ever again because I will always have that feeling in my mind,” Spence also told FOX Sports.

A thank you was in order for his former coach, Urban Meyer.

I had tears in my eyes. I forced myself to watch it. The whole thing. It was a once in a lifetime chance and I messed it all up

See, without Meyer, Spence may have never received a second chance. Meyer has been friends with Eastern Kentucky head coach Dean Hood since they were kids. Meyer placed the call to Hood, telling him to bring Spence in and provide him his chance at redemption. To the benefit of both Spence and EKU, Hood listened. Spence attended drug counseling while enrolled and never missed a singe session, nor failed a single drug test. He was truly blessed with an opportunity he wasn’t going to throw away.

Fast-forward to April 29, 2016 – night two of the NFL draft. The Bucs were on the clock and Spence was still available…

The road to redemption is as smooth as you could hope for, right now. With the money and fame that comes with the NFL, temptations and availability will continue to grow, so Spence still has his work cut out for him. However, the player the Bucs will get is one that immediately improves this line. Listed as Mike Mayock’s number two edge rusher and Daniel Jeremiah’s number thirty overall player, Spence may have been a major steal at thirty-nine.

Spence isn’t without his shortcomings, but he’s an overall very, very good defensive end. Some of the knocks on Spence is that he’s weak in the run game. Although it isn’t he strength, of course, it’s a bit misleading to say he’s bad in the run game. A couple of plays stood out when watching his performance against Kentucky last season;

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Here you see his quick recovery from rushing outside to getting to the running back right around the line of scrimmage. He’s able to shed his block and close the hole quickly, slowing the runner enough for help to get there, resulting in a minimal gain.

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Again, Spence is rushing on the outside, but his speed and quickness allows him to recover and get the runner after a minimal gain. He displays very solid ball awareness and doesn’t let up when a play gets away from him. A constant motor helps with redirecting himself to wherever the ball may be heading.

Now, for the reason the Bucs drafted him; getting after the quarterback. Again, in the Kentucky game, Spence dominates one-on-one coverage to get after the quarterback;

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His speed will be one of his biggest assets, as will his ability to transition speed into power. One-on-one coverage will not get the job done against Spence on passing plays. His speed against offensive linemen will allow him to overmatch them, so teams will have to find a way to get a second set of hands on him somehow. Unfortunately for opposing teams, they can’t double Spence and Gerald McCoy with linemen or it leaves Robert Ayers or Jacquies Smith on the outside or Clinton McDonald, William Gholston, or Akeem Spence on the inside uncovered. To get an additional set of hands on Spence, teams will be forced to use either a running back or a tight end, taking a potential pass catcher out of the equation.

Even when Spence doesn’t sack the quarterback, his ability to get pressure on him can lead to errant throws;

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Here, Spence starts to the outside then quickly moves inside as an opening presents itself. He forces the quarterback out of the pocket, causing him to throw the ball away. Almost as good as a sack, but just couldn’t quite get there. For all the criticism Spence got after the combine for his speed, on film he appears much faster than his 40-time.

Finally, in his game against the Michigan State Spartans back in his Ohio State days, Spence’s film was largely underwhelming. However, he did manage to show off that motor of his again;

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After narrowly missing a sack on Cook, Spence chases down the receiver for a short gain. We’ve seen numerous defensive ends, especially here in Tampa recently, that would’ve given up on the play after the quarterback got rid of the ball. Not Spence. This guy is 100% go, all the time.

Something to keep in mind about Spence is his versatility. As I talked about yesterday, Mike Smith might be running more 3-4 than the Bucs are leading on. Spence can line up on either side of the line as a defensive end, but has also shown his ability to line up as a 3-4 outside linebacker, allowing him to better utilize his speed and get off the line of scrimmage faster.

Noah Spence can quickly become one of Buccaneers’ fans favorite players if he can live up to the expectations and hype. Some in the media circuits have even gone so far as to say he’ll be a double digit sack guy as a rookie. Now, seeing as how Spence will not be a three-down player and will still be somewhat rotational, double-digit sacks may be a bit optimistic, but he will certainly have a major impact on the defense. The learning curve for rookie defensive ends is a pretty steep one, so temper too many expectations and allow the guy to develop a bit. He will be a double-digit sack player, that much seems extremely likely, just not as a rookie.

Next: A Deeper Look At Vernon Hargreaves III

Noah Spence has gone from the top, to rock bottom, and now has an opportunity to rise to the top again. His good friend Jameis Winston vouched for him and will take Spence under his wing, as Winston is no stranger to off-field concerns and criticisms. All we know right now is what kind of player Spence is, what kind of player he can grow to be, and what kind of man he has turned himself into on his road to redemption.