I was pretty fond of Noah Spence as a pass rusher back in 2016 when I did my pre-draft breakdown on him. As a rookie, Spence made me look pretty smart by racking up 5.5 sacks in his first season.
The problem was he also hurt his shoulder early in that season and had to undergo surgery to correct the problem in the offseason. Then he re-injured that same shoulder in 2017 and ended up having to go on injured reserve after the sixth game to have another surgery. His shoulder had reportedly popped out of place four times in his first two seasons in the league.
Last season Spence appeared to be healthy, but the Buccaneers didn’t play him all that much. I don’t know if he was in the doghouse, or they were trying to send him a message or what, but what was interesting to me is the few reps he did get all season, he was able to show he still had some juice off the edge.
Whatever the reason the Bucs had for not playing Spence last season, it didn’t seem to be that he wasn’t good enough to play.
Well as it happens, the same coaching staff that decided not to play him much last season won’t be returning this season. Not only is there a new coaching staff in place in Tampa, but there is a new defensive scheme coming as well.
The Bucs brought Bruce Arians out of retirement to be the new head coach after they fired Dirk Koetter, and Arians brought Todd Bowles in as his defensive coordinator. With Bowles in place, the Bucs appear to be transitioning into more of a 3-4 defense this year. That is likely great news for Spence, who should be a much better fit as a rush linebacker in a 3-4 than he ever was as a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end since he first came to Tampa.
So far, all of the reports out of training camp about Spence’s play have been positive.
The thing that jumped out to me about his film last year is it was evident his get-off is still top notch. Spence has always had a natural knack for getting to the quarterback, and the guy has plenty of pass-rush moves.
Putting him in position to be able to fly up the field on most plays is the best possible scenario for him. He is going to have offensive tackles bailing out of their stances at the snap, and then Spence will be able to hit them with a counter move inside.
He is so precise and quick with his hands at times that he is already past the blockers before they realize he has beaten them. I’m talking about on running plays and passing plays! We will never know the kind of stats he would have put up in his first three seasons in the league if he hadn’t messed up his shoulder as a rookie, but after damn near getting a redshirt last year, we should have some idea of what that would look like this year.
He is in good position to pick up right where he left off during his rookie season when he was getting after quarterbacks’ asses relentlessly.
Mind you, he will have two wrecking balls to the inside of him in Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea, so it is likely Spence will see a lot of one-on-one opportunities should he be able to carve out a spot to rush the quarterback on passing downs. I think he will at least earn those reps, if not more, this season.
With Jason Pierre-Paul out of commission until the middle of the season at the earliest due to injuries he sustained in a car wreck, it is not like the Bucs have ton of edge rushers on the roster. As a former second-round pick, it would make sense for Spence to get have every opportunity to finally show what he can really do. He will have to battle offseason acquisition Shaquil Barrett for playing time and maybe rookie fourth-round pick Anthony Nelson as well, but if Spence is truly healthy now, I think he will be up to the task of at least being one of the top backups.
In the first preseason game against the Steelers, Spence was able to get some good pressure several times throughout the first half. Even though he did miss a gimme sack, the fact he forced a holding call later kind of evened things out a little. He still had some plays I’m sure he would say he wants to clean up, but he showed once again that he knows how to get to the quarterback, just in case anybody had forgotten.
If he can stay healthy I would definitely expect Spence to eclipse his rookie sack numbers, whether he starts or not. That kid just knows how to get pressure and if you put him out there on the field, he is going to find a way to harass the quarterback.
So now he just has to hope his body holds up, because if it does Spence is going to finally fulfill all the promise he had coming out of college before all of the injuries. If anybody dares to take him lightly this year, their quarterback is sure to pay for it.
It might have taken a while for it to happen, but I think this is the year when Noah Spence finally puts it all together.
Confidence level: Moderate