When it comes to rookies in the NFL, coaches are constantly learning new things about their young players. No matter how much film they see prior to coaching them, it takes being around the players, interacting with and seeing them on a daily basis to get to know them.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers thought they knew a lot about rookie second-round draft choice Noah Spence. They knew he was a kid that was driven and is willing to overcome adversity. But the last two weeks, the Buccaneers have found how tough Spence is and how much football truly means to him.
Spence suffered a shoulder injury in a 27-7 loss to the Denver Broncos and left the game with his shoulder in a sling. It first appeared the rookie would not be available to play for the foreseeable future. But Spence not only played in the next game against the Carolina Panthers and the following game against the San Francisco 49ers, but had perhaps the best game of his young career.
Against San Francisco, Spence played a season-high 42 snaps. He was credited with one tackle for a loss, two quarterback pressures and one pass deflection.
“I was hyped,” Spence said. “I was getting into a rhythm the more I was playing. That’s how I feel I can get better. I was ready to go and I was ready to go and play another game.”
The Buccaneers intended to use Spence on pass-rushing downs to utilize his speed to disrupt the opposing quarterback. But with the rash of injuries the Buccaneers’ defensive line has suffered, Spence has had to play in more situations and has held his own.
“He’s done well,” beamed Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike Smith. “Noah has had to play a lot more snaps than we had anticipated. We really felt like early on that he would be only a pass rush specialist, or what we call a ‘designated pass rusher’ in our defense. And his pitch count was up and snap count was up, close to 50.”
“So, he had to play and be prepared to play in some of our base, in some of our big sub packages. Very pleased with what he is doing. It’s tough. For him to come back and not miss a game with the injury that he sustained, it says a lot about his toughness.”
Spence said he has played with pain before, and once the game starts, he doesn’t even think about it despite wearing a shoulder harness. Even if it does, he’s not admitting it. He doesn’t want to lose any time on the field.
“It’s up and down,” Spence replied when asked the range of pain the shoulder ’causes. “Like most injuries sometimes you feel it sometimes you don’t. It comes with the territory I guess.
“I can’t really tell (how the harness affects his play). I don’t even think about it. Sometimes I feel it and I’m like, ‘Ow’, then it goes away and I’m back at playing football. It’s not that bad.”
It’s a mindset Spence has had to learn. From his troubles that forced him out of Ohio State and his redemption while playing at Eastern Kentucky, Spence found out how much he truly loves football. He loves being on the field and never wants to take any plays off, not even for an injury.
“Last year I played with a broken hand,” he said. “They put a cast on it and I kept going. Yeah, I was playing with one hand, now I’m playing with one arm. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be once you get used to the harness.”
Spence said he’s going to have to wear the harness for the rest of the season, but the injury won’t get any worse by him playing and he is dealing with the pain. While he continues to learn how to play at the next level, Spence is willing to do anything he can to stay on the field.
“Nah, I never doubt myself,” he said. “Even if I’m not doing as good as I want to at the time. I just keep my faith in God and keep grinding. I never doubt myself. That’s how you fail. I just want to keep getting better every game.”