The more you look at it the more you have to marvel at the incredibly productive season that Buccaneers rookie defensive end Noah Spence has this past year.
The first of the Bucs two second-round draft picks, No. 39 overall, Spence went from being a designated pass rusher to an almost-every down defensive end playing both sides of the line.
And he did most of that, not while playing hurt, but while playing injured. And there is a difference. A big difference.
Playing hurt is something you do when you’ve got a nagging pain or something that causes discomfort. Playing injured is what you do when something’s broken. Or in Spence’s case, torn.
The right labrum that Spence told Florida Football Insiders he partially tore during the Bucs Week 4 game against Denver wasn’t partially torn as Spence initially said, it was completely torn.
That fear was confirmed on Wednesday when Spence, after recording 22 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 12 quarterback pressures and two pass breakups, finally underwent surgery to repair the problem and confirmed it.
Surgery went well..God is good, time to kill this rehab and come back better!
— Noah Spence (@nspence94) January 11, 2017
The injury is similar to one Gerald McCoy dealt with a year ago and the belief is that Spence will recover fully, though it may be training camp before he’s back on the field again.
That said, the Bucs learned a lot about Spence this past year. Most importantly, they learned that in addition to being as good a pass rusher as they thought he was, they also learned he’s far tougher than they thought he was.
Toughness is one of those traits you can’t really get a feel for until it’s truly tested and inside the Bucs locker room Spence clearly passed the test this year by refusing to come out of the lineup.
“Most rookies would have sat on that injury, they would have milked it,’’ fellow Bucs defensive lineman Akeem Spence (no relation) said of Noah. “But Noah, he’s not like that.
“I mean, it surprised me when he said he was going to keep playing with that injury and he never used it as a crutch and he just got better and better. I mean imagine what he’ll be like without that shoulder injury.’’
You know the Bucs are. The Bucs drafted Spence, arguably the best pure pass rusher in last year’s draft class, hoping he could take their pass rush to another level.
He didn’t quite take them there this year but based on what we saw of a player largely limited by his injury, there’s no reason to believe he won’t take them there some time soon.