TAMPA – Its approval of the Raiders move to Las Vegas notwithstanding the NFL still frowns on sports gambling. That doesn’t mean players don’t get involved in it outside or even inside the locker room.
It’s rather normal in fact for players to make little side bets with one another over performance goals and the like and Buccaneers defensive end Robert Ayers was among those who made just such a bet last year.
Ayers wisely did not go into detail of the wager he made or reveal who he made it with, but he did reveal last week that early on last year he made a side bet on rookie defensive end Noah Spence.
Ayers said he quickly became so impressed with Spence’s skill set and work ethic that he bet that Spence would become the first Buccaneer since Simeon Rice in 2005 to reach the 10-sack plateau.
Ayers didn’t win that bet. Slowed by a torn labrum, Spence barely made it halfway to Ayers’ goal, finishing the year with 5.5 sacks. Ayers. Though, is ready to double down on Spence’s talent in Year 2.
“He played pretty good as a rookie, but he didn’t meet his standards and he didn’t do the things that he wanted to be doing,’’ Ayers said. “And talking to him (this year), I know how hungry he is.
“I think this year he’s even more hungry than he was last year, so I’m excited for him. I think he’s a player who could be a 15-plus sack guy this year. That’s my opinion.
“Whether he goes and does it is another thing, but that’s how I feel about him because I think he has the tools that not many people come into this league with and he’s still learning.
“So I’m excited for him. It’s going to be a big year for him I think. He’s going to tear some stuff up this year, and I’m looking forward to seeing it happen.’’
Bucs fans are excited as well. Spence was considered the best pure pass rusher in the draft last year and he often played like it, recording three forced fumbles and two pass breakups along with those 5.5 sacks.
Two of those forced fumbles came on strip sacks, and when you consider that Spence played virtually the whole season with his right arm in a sling, his play was ridiculously impressive.
Spence spent most of last year playing on raw skill so he only figures to get better as he adapts to the NFL, which is why Ayers’ prediction of a breakout season has plenty of merit.