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Bucs’ rookie Noah Spence still has the potential to make a difference

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It isn’t fair to say that Noah Spence is learning to play defensive end in the NFL.

Rather, he’s learning to learn.

Spence, the rookie defensive end of the Tampa Bay Bucs, has three sacks so far for Tampa Bay. But coaches and teammates praise how Spence has caught on so far.

“He’s just preparing better,” teammate Gerald McCoy said. “Like I said, it’s a mental battle. Before it was just, ‘I’ll go to meetings when I have to go to meetings and practice when I have to practice,’ but now he’s watching film on his own, studying his opponent more and knowing what to expect and how to prepare. All the vets in the room are helping him out. He’s asking more questions and he’s more focused in practice. He’s just becoming an NFL football player.

“It’s different when you’re in college. You still have to be a college football player, but you can still be immature and still get by. He’s realizing you can’t do that in the NFL. You’re playing against grown men now who really know how to prepare and have different things at stake. Take a person like me, I’ve got four kids, so my preparation is very key. A lot of the linemen in the room have got kids and wives, so when you’re preparing you’re keeping your wife and kids and mine. Like, I can’t mess up on this play because then I’m letting my kids down. He’s starting to realize that and he’s growing up fast. That’s why you’re seeing him play the way he is.”

Spence was originally a pass-rushing specialist for the Bucs, but lately, his play against the run has improved.

“I think at the beginning of the game last week, he was a little juiced up and we got out of our gap, but you can see his ability to close,” said defensive coordinator Mike Smith. “You can see his ability to shut off the gap when the ball goes away from him and I think he’s getting a better understanding. A lot of our young players are still trying to figure out the nuances, based on where the backs align, what the down and distance is and those are things that you learn as a professional football player through repetition. It’s something that doesn’t happen overnight, they’re all learning experiences.

“When you don’t close and they run the ball back and we give up seven or eight yards, next time it happens, he stays on the line of scrimmage and we have a two-yard gain. So, they’re learning experiences for Noah and all of our guys. But, Noah is not going to be just a DPR, a designated pass rusher. I have no doubt in my mind that he’s going to be a guy that’s going to be in the rotation and be able to play on first and second down.”

Some mistakes, coach Dirk Koetter said, come because young players don’t yet know how to play in the NFL.

“There’s some of that with, say, a guy like Spence.” Koetter said. “When we talked a day or two ago about him making progress against the run, I’d say that’s the case for him. But then, I think in other cases, it’s new coaches, new scheme, asking them to do different things, asking them to do multiple things and maybe sometimes we ask them to do too much and then – that’s the same thing on offense. As an offensive coach, I always tried to gauge if we were asking these guys to learn too much in a week and you can usually tell, based on how many mistakes you’re making, how many mental mistakes you’re making in practice.”

The Bucs play in Kansas City Sunday at 1 p.m. The Chiefs are 17-2 in their last 19 games at home.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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