Greg Spires is on pace to join Lee Roy Selmon as the top tackling defensive ends in team history
He wasn't involved in any of the game's three turnovers, he didn't have either of his team's two sacks (or the third that was overturned by replay) and he wasn't the first player interviewed coming off the field after Sunday's big victory. Yet there might not have been a defender who had a bigger impact in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' win over the Kansas City Chiefs than Greg Spires.
According to Head Coach Jon Gruden, that statement would also be accurate in regard to the entire season.
On Sunday, Spires delivered a 60-minute, middle-of-the-action, yeoman's effort against the Chiefs, and that's not something you necessarily expect from a defensive end.
Defensive tackles are often thrust into the middle of running plays, like it or not; linebackers are charged with getting to the ball whenever possible; and defensive backs often roam all over the field in search of the big play. An end's job, on the other hand, is sometimes one-dimensional and away from the flow of the action, depending on the opponent's game plan.
Spires was having none of that against the Chiefs. By hustling to the ball even when it was headed in the opposite direction, and by holding the point of attack when it came his way, Spires racked up nine tackles in the game, second only to linebacker Derrick Brooks' 14. That was no small feat against a Kansas City offensive line that many consider the best in the game. Those Chief road-graders make a habit of taking opposing linemen out of the game and getting back Priest Holmes to the second level of the defense.
Spires also had several of what the Bucs' coaching staff terms 'pressures,' indicating a play in which the defender didn't get a sack but did force the quarterback into an unfavorable play. Simply put, Spires was not to be denied on Sunday.
"When you look at that film he is a punishing physical football player against the run, the pass, and every down," said Head Coach Jon Gruden, who first brought Spires to the Bucs in 2002. "He is playing great football for us right now. He is as productive a defensive player we have right now."
Spires has necessarily toiled in a lesser spotlight since arriving in Tampa, thanks to the presence of Pro Bowl defensive end Simeon Rice on the other side. Still, Spires is far from unknown, as he has made a habit of coming up big in big games. The best example: Super Bowl XXXVII, in which he was on a short list of MVP candidates thanks to performance that included three tackles, one sack and two passes defensed, both of which led to interceptions.
Perhaps Spires deserves even more credit, however. He is certainly one of the team's most consistently productive defenders. His nine tackles against the Chiefs are the most in a single game by any Buccaneer defensive lineman this year. He also had eight in the opener at Washington and seven in Week Six at St. Louis.
"Hopefully, he will start to get more national notoriety," said Gruden, "because he certainly deserves it."
Spires is tied for second on the team with three sacks and he is first among all defensive linemen with 46 tackles. Since the Bucs just reached the halfway point, that means he is on pace to record 92 stops by season's end. That would be a remarkable effort for a defensive lineman.
Since defensive tackle David Logan had 106 tackles and defensive end Lee Roy Selmon had 100 in 1984, no Buccaneer lineman has had more than 81 stops in the season (DT Brad Culpepper reached that mark in 1998). Other than Selmon, who peaked at an incredible 117 tackles in 1979 (in a 3-4 defense), no Buc end has cracked 90 tackles in a season.
Spires is a technically sound player who gets great leverage on his opponent, but his best attribute may be his hustle.
Case in point: On first-and-10 from the Buccaneers' 42 in the first quarter, Chiefs quarterback Trent Green threw an outlet pass to Holmes near the right sideline, the type of play off which Kansas City often nabs big chunks of yardage. On this one, Spires sprinted out from his end spot in time to meet Holmes just after he caught the ball, limiting the gain to one yard.
Or another: On the first play of the Chiefs' next drive, Spires simply beat his man off the line and got to Holmes in the backfield just after he took the handoff. Loss of six.
Or another: On Kansas City's last drive, running back Larry Johnson took a handoff and cut to his left, away from Spires's spot over the right tackle. The blocking scheme worked and Johnson had a big hole to run through. It might have been a gain of 10 or more yards, except Spires fought his way down the line and, lying on the ground, tripped up Johnson with his arm. Gain of four and a third down the Chiefs would have to convert to continue the drive.
None of those plays showed up on SportsCenter on Sunday evening, but you can bet they were all prominently featured when the team gathered to watch film on Monday afternoon. There are many ways to help your team with an impact play and Spires, through his constant hustle, seems determined to find them all.