Consider this the first of many pieces written about Noah Spence on this site.
The outstanding pass rusher is currently putting his talent on display this week at the Senior Bowl, and I have little doubt that the Bucs have a keen eye on him.
Before we get too enthralled with the natural talent Spence possesses, it is important to know where he came from. Spence was a player on the rise for two seasons at Ohio State. During those 24 games at Ohio State, Spence started in 13 of them with 15.5 tackles for a loss, 9 sacks (8 sacks in the 2013 season), and a forced fumble. All of that early success and potential came to a crashing end in 2014.
Spence failed his 2nd drug test with the university in September of 2014 - testing positive for ecstacy. Spence was suspended indefinitely, a decision that was later upheld after an appeal in November of that same year. Spence's addiction forced him to have to watch his teammates win the National Championship without him.
“I had tears in my eyes,” Spence told Fox Sports. "I forced myself to watch it. The whole thing. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance and I messed it all up.”
This Fox Sports piece by Bruce Feldman on Noah Spence is a must-read for any sports fan, and describes how Urban Meyer assisted in Spence's transfer to Eastern Kentucky:
Meyer contacted childhood friend Dean Hood, now the head coach at FCS Eastern Kentucky, a three-hour drive from Columbus. Hood said he and Meyer had never talked football since their coaching careers took root -- until last winter. Meyer texted Hood saying, "This is a great kid. A big-time player and a great person. He would thrive with a second chance.”
"I knew right away after talking to Urban, there was no feeling-out process,” Hood said. "I was guns a-blazing trying to get him to come to EKU. I trust Urban Meyer with my life. There's no way that this is a good kid, good player and deserves a second chance if he had any red flags whatsoever. Knowing our relationship, Urban would never do anything to hurt me."
Hood did some digging and got educated from speaking to EKU’s counseling center to learn about the battle Spence faced. "I asked, 'What are we dealing with? What does it do? What is its effect? Why is it addictive? And then, can you get a hold of Ohio State to find out what are they doing counseling-wise and can we get the same type of program here?’ "
With Meyer’s blessing, Spence and his parents were convinced that Eastern Kentucky was the ideal place to resume his football career. Spence also had a request for Hood, his new coach.
"I asked them if they could put me on every drug-test list here even though I know I'm clean,” Spence said.
During his time at EKU, Spence has seen a counselor twice a month and has taken and passed every drug test. Spence was tested randomly 5 times in the year he spent at EKU.
Unfortunately, the trouble was not completely behind him as Spence was arrested in May of 2015 and charged with 2nd-degree disorderly conduct after a police officer saw Spence throw a glass bottle into the street, shattering the bottle. The incident was later described as a misunderstanding, and the case was expunged. Eastern Kentucky stood by their newest member and allowed Spence to play the entire season. In that one season, Spence totaled 22.5 tackles for a loss, 11.5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles.
As Spence now prepares for the NFL Draft, he will have a lot of questions to answer as teams decide if his addictions are truly behind him. Spence has been forthcoming with his addiction.
"I got real caught up in the college lifestyle," Spence said, per ESPN. "Every weekend, I was doing too much. I was young and stupid and I thought I could go out and party all the time."
Spence is projected early on as a 1st round draft pick in April's draft, but how high is too high? (pun was not intended when originally written)
Every team in the NFL is looking for pass rushers, but no team needs pass rushers more than the Buccaneers? The Bucs pick 9th in April's draft, which some may feel is a tad early for a player with this much baggage. Can Spence be trusted?
Before we dive deeper into this possibility, let's rewind to just one year ago. The Buccaneers held the 1st overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and had to choose between saint Marcus Mariota and perceived troublemaker Jameis Winston. The Bucs, led by Jason Licht, conducted as extensive an investigation as you could have, and ultimately selected Jameis Winston...the wise choice.
Defensive linemen are a much different breed than quarterbacks. You just don't find Lee Roy Selmon type players anymore. Having a defensive end who's a little unstable isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world...especially if you have the right leadership in place to channel that instability to the field (Jameis). The Bucs defense was littered with "nice guys" under Lovie Smith, and they weren't even allowed to use curse words. Maybe it's time this Bucs defense got a little crazy and a little mean on it.
During Spence's first practice at the Senior Bowl, he was already making noise. Spence was "chippy as hell" and "not taking anybody's shit" according to our own Luke Easterling, who is in Mobile for the week.
"Spence's intensity is on another level than everyone else," Luke Easterling said after Tuesday's practices.
It is very early on in the process, but all I'm saying is to remember the name “Noah Spence.” If he keeps out of trouble and continues to show that his life is moving in the right direction off the field, his name will continue to rise.
As for on the field, I hope he continues to stay intense and not take anybody's shit because that's the type of attitude that makes truly great defensive players, and it's something the Buccaneers desperately need.