DE Greg Spires plays with an intense effort that often puts him in the middle of the play
The distinctive smell of Tiger Balm in the air in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' locker room usually means one thing – Greg Spires is at his locker. And that would be just about any afternoon during the non-mandatory open media sessions; as most locker-room visitors will attest, Spires is friendly, approachable and accountable.
That is not necessarily the impression opponents get between the lines on Sunday, however. Spires has been anything but friendly to opposing quarterbacks and ballcarriers since his arrival in Tampa in 2002.
Spires arrived in Tampa as a free agent prior, heavily valued by the Bucs but with somewhat of a low league profile. He was a former third-round pick who played four previous seasons in New England and Cleveland, with seven career starts. The low profile didn't last long; anyone who watched Super Bowl XXXVII – and that, as you may be aware, is a lot of people – got a glimpse of how much Spires can affect a game. In that Super Bowl, a 48-21 Bucs domination over the Oakland Raiders, Spires recorded three tackles, one sack and two passes defensed, indirectly leading to two of the Bucs' five interceptions.
Even with sack-master Simeon Rice on the other end and first-round tackle Anthony McFarland in the middle, Spires has been an integral cog on the Bucs' defensive line. As Rod Marinelli, respected defensive line/assistant head coach, raves about the former Florida State standout, one gains some insight into what makes Spires so valuable to the Buccaneers.
"He has a lot of intangibles, a lot of the things we look for in a player," said Marinelli, who has put Spires on the starting line for al 42 games he's played as a Buccaneer. "We really liked him coming out of Florida State – he had great initial quickness, toughness, and he was just a high, high achiever, and he's played like that for us every week. Once a guy gets here, we really don't care what round he was drafted in. We just care about what he does on the field, his performance."
Likewise, Spires thoroughly enjoys playing for Marinelli. He feels that the Bucs run a scheme that maximizes his talent, which might explain why he has been so successful while playing in a Buccaneer uniform.
"Coach Kiffin's defense is very similar to the one I played in while at Florida State," said Spires. "I tell you what – the Buccaneers brought me here with the confidence that I could play this defense. It really motivates you as a player when you're wanted like that – it makes you want to play that much harder."
Spires's drive is evident in his high-energy style of play. He is tied for second on the team with 4.5 sacks, 1.5 behind Rice, but Spires's most prolific stat is his 63 tackles, an unusually high number for a defensive linemen. He is on pace for 91 stops, which would be the highest total by a Buccaneer end since Lee Roy Selmon cracked 100 twice. Tackles are hardly the glamour stat up front, but Spires is the consummate professional and he goes about his business regardless of recognition or stat lines. He simply wants to be the best pure football player he can be.
"I try – not that I'm successful all the time - to be an all around player," said Spires. "I want to be able to play both the run and pass, and even be able to drop into coverage. I try to make myself as well-rounded as possible."
Spires's all-around play will come in handy when the Buccaneers take on the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Quarterback Michael Vick has caused opposing defenses fits all season, and the Tampa Bay defense has its work cut out for it in stopping the electrifying signal caller.
Spires and the rest of the defensive line will shoulder much of the burden of neutralizing Vick. Fellow D-lineman Chidi Ahanotu respects the threat posed by Vick, but neither he nor Spires plans on backing down from the challenge.
"Well obviously the most unique challenge is stopping Vick," said Ahanotu. "The schemes that they run are pretty simple and straightforward, but when Vick starts improvising there's not another team as dangerous as they are. With Vick, we have our hands full."
Regardless of who their opponent may be, the Buccaneer defense makes stopping the run its top priority. Against the Falcons today, that strategy will be put to the test. Aside from the lightning-quick Vick, the backfield duo of Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett gives Atlanta a multi-faceted running game. Spires knows that stopping it will be a key to the game's outcome.
"Stopping the run is the most important thing we need to do," said Spires. "We need to put them in long down-and-distance situations and recognize the formations that we know Vick is susceptible in. That, along with getting off the field on third down – those will be the keys for us on Sunday."
When the game clock hits 0:00 today, No. 94 may or may not have a high number of tackles or a couple sacks. One can be fairly certain, however, that Greg Spires will be a disruptive force on the playing field.