Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive lineman Noah Spence showed flashes of what he could do as a pass rusher in the National Football League during his rookie season in 2016, and had visions of making even more plays in 2017.
However, Spence reinjured his shoulder early in the 2017 season, and was limited to just six games before being placed on injured reserve on October 25.
“That was just a sad and disappointing situation,” Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter told media at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine.
“When a guy has offseason shoulder surgery and goes through all that rehab, and Noah was very diligent in that rehab, and then, halfway in our second game of the year in Minnesota, he comes off and he’s holding his shoulder and they say, ‘It’s the exact same thing.’”
True to his craft, Spence not only finished the game against the Vikings, but registered seven tackles and a safety over the next four weeks before having his season come to a premature end when he was placed on IR.
“He goes in the locker room, puts on a harness and finishes the game,” Koetter recalled. “Noah loves football, and when you draft a guy where we drafted him, you have high expectations for him, and he has high expectations for himself.”
Not much has been easy for Spence when it comes to staying on the field during his playing career.
Spence registered 52 total tackles during his sophomore season with the Ohio State Buckeyes in 2013. Of those 52 stops, 14.5 were for lost yardage, and eight were sacks of opposing quarterbacks. A first-team All-Big Ten Conference performer in 2013, Spence also forced a fumble for the Buckeyes.
But the 2013 season proved to be Spence’s final year in Columbus before failed drug tests caused the Big Ten Conference to indefinitely suspend him from competition, and later, deny his appeal for reinstatement the following November.
Given a second chance with Eastern Kentucky University in 2015, Spence registered 63 total stops, including 31 solo tackles, 22.5 tackles for 113 lost yards, 11.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and two recoveries. Because of that, the Buccaneers took a chance on Spence with a second-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
In two seasons with the Buccaneers, the 6-foot-2, 251-pound Spence has registered 31 total tackles, 21 solo stops, 10 assists, 6.5 sacks and four forced fumbles along with a safety and two passes defended.
And by monitoring his training habits, Koetter feels Spence will be an impactful player when he returns in 2018.
“He’s training like crazy,” Koetter said. “I saw him last week. He told me he weighed 254 pounds and he looks great. He is still not cleared coming off that shoulder surgery, but obviously, we feel like if we can get him out there healthy, he has a chance to be an impact player for us.”