Due to injuries to their D-line, the Buccaneers have repeatedly called on young players. And, rookie defensive end Noah Spence had his busiest day of the season last Sunday, playing a season-high 42 snaps during the Bucs 34-17 victory over the 49ers.
Those 42 snaps accounted for 60-percent of the Bucs defensive plays, which is more work than Spence has received in any two-game period prior to last week.
It also proved to be Spence’s most productive day yet as a Buccaneer as he recorded a tackle, a sack (his second of the year) and a pass breakup (his first of the year).
What’s most impressive is that Spence did all that while still playing with a bit of a bad right shoulder, which he dislocated and tore a part of the labrum in three weeks ago.
Spence has been playing with his shoulder in a harness, which speaks not only to his toughness, which defensive coordinator Mike Smith lauded him for a week ago, but his skill.
The Bucs didn’t come out and say it after they drafted Spence in the second round last May, but they knew all along he wasn’t ready to handle the run-stopping portion of his job.
He’s just not big enough or strong enough yet, but with so many of his fellow defensive linemen injured Spence has been thrust into a more regular role the last couple games.
As his contributions and the results suggest, though, Spence appears to be adjust quite well and it may not be long before the Bucs start playing him more regularly on merit rather than out of necessity.
“We’re very happy with him,’’ Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said of Spence. “He still fits in the ‘learning’ category. He still makes some of those mistakes that a young player is apt to make, but he likes to play and he really gives good effort. As long as he keeps learning and keeps improving the future is going to be bright for him.’’