As mini-camp rolls on in the heat of Tampa, Wednesday’s headlines were dominated by talk of the enhanced defensive line. Questions were answered with positivity and energy that’s been lacking. One of the reasons is due to the addition of defensive line coach Jay Hayes, and his history of constructing prolific front lines with the Bengals for the last 13 seasons, and utilizing his players for their specific skills. The other reason has to do with Coach Hayes’ versatile rookie defensive end, Noah Spence.
"Noah Spence, he brings an excitement, he brings a talent – a rare talent level, that in these days younger guys don’t really possess," Bucs DT Clinton McDonald said. "But he’s the type of guy – he’s fast, he’s agile, he plays multiple positions, so he brings an ‘X-factor’ to what we have going on.”
This year’s NFL Draft presented abundant talent for defensive lineman. The once highly-touted collegiate player, Spence, was still on the board at #39 during the Buc’s selection. Without much hesitation the team pulled the trigger on another “controversial” player. The team did their homework and was comfortable with taking Spence with their second round pick.
Spence, the 6’3” 260 DE out of Eastern Kentucky, was once considered a prospective top draft pick. But this assessment was during Spence’s freshman year at Ohio State, and before the impending troubles that changed his life. After being suspended by the Big 10 Conference for failing several drug tests, Spence attended counseling, and improved himself. This unfortunate episode led him to Eastern Kentucky, as Spence has commented on becoming a smarter and stronger person.
The players and coaches rave about this young man and understandably so. Even though his size typically defines him as a tweener (DT/DE), watching his first step burst with his hand in the dirt off the edge, and ability of maintaining leverage by staying low, it’s plain to see the exceptional athlete the Buc’s brass selected. “You look at it, you look around the league and you go to Denver and their prized defensive end they have Von Miller doesn’t look like a defensive end. He can cover down field, any tight end or any wide receiver and he can pass rush just as good as anybody else out there and I mean, I think that’s what they see in Noah Spence in a sense. I think Coach Hayes is the exact coach to coach him,” defensive end Jacquies Smith said.
Free agent pickup, DE Robert Ayers was asked about his ‘protégé’ Noah Spence.
“I wouldn’t call him my protégé because I’m learning from him. He has a lot of natural things that you just can’t teach and I’m trying to study him and learn from him too,”
Ayers said. Coming from a seasoned player like Ayers, this is the news fans desire to hear about the young man.
Coach Hayes will have a defensive line that will be flexible to interchange players and positions. This is extremely beneficial for a young pass rusher like Spence. And, with the addition of the pro bowl CB Brent Grimes, first round draft pick CB Vernon Hargreaves, and the quick fourth round draft pick DB Ryan Smith, Coach Mike Smith should be able to adjust his scheme for much improved pass coverage. Locking down receivers and making the QB hold the ball an instant longer is advantageous for the D-Line, just as letting it go to soon bolsters the defensive backfield.
All-in-all, Noah Spence seems to be in a promising situation here in Tampa, not only with great coaching and opportunities, but the support system and belief that his teammates exude in him. Spence has the chance to show why he was recognized so highly at the collegiate level, while using his skill set to punish QBs.
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