Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter spent all of Wednesday's practice watching his team's offense, which means he'll have to evaluate his defensive players via videotape. Chances are, he will like what he sees from rookie defensive end Noah Spence.
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The Buccaneers used the 38th overall pick in this year's draft on Spence, who they believed could be the best pure pass-rusher in the field. That was an asset Koetter's team was particularly intent on finding during the 2016 offseason; the same pursuit led to the signing of unrestricted free agent Robert Ayers. Both Spence and Ayers have looked sharp during training camp while going against the Buccaneers' own offensive linemen. On Wednesday, Spence got to test his moves against the Jaguars' blockers, and he indeed appeared to be one of the best pass-rushers on the field.
"I felt like it was some good work," said Spence, mildly. "They set differently than our guys; we felt like it was good help for us to see something different and come out here and just compete. It felt great to see some different sets because they set a lot different than our offensive linemen do. It was a good test for us and I think we tried our best and came out and competed."
One-on-one drills between the offensive and defensive linemen can put the spotlight on a single defender or blocker, and Spence started this drill with a very good rep against Jacksonville offensive tackle Luke Joeckel. Later, in a two-on-two session that allowed the rushers to play off each other with stunts and twists – and gave the O-Linemen a chance to pick up such stunts – Spence combined with Ayers for a very effective rep.
Spence, whose outstanding quickness off the edge made him a strong pass-rusher at Ohio State and later Eastern Kentucky, is finding out that pure speed isn't enough to succeed in the NFL. His continued success on the practice field is a very promising indication that he is adjusting well.
"Definitely in the NFL you have to use your moves a lot more instead of just trying to run past somebody every play," he said. "We set up people with different moves and I think it's helped me a lot going against these guys because they're more technique-sound."
Ayers and Spence were the second two-man combination to get a rep in that drill against the Jaguars' offensive linemen. Gerald McCoy and Jacquies Smith went first, with the Buc pair getting good penetration on their first rep but gaining little ground against the Jacksonville blockers on the second rep. Those four linemen represent the unit the Buccaneers have been sending out in obvious pass-rush situations, with Ayers sliding in from right end to join McCoy at defensive tackle. That makes Spence and Ayers the Bucs' best combination to come after opposing quarterbacks from the blind side (assuming a right-handed thrower). They looked like a dangerous duo at times on Wednesday, but Ayers knows that, unlike that particular practice drill, it's more than just a two-man game.
"I think the whole D-Line can [be dangerous]," said Ayers. "Noah's going to make things a lot easier for me. Gerald's going to make things easier for me. Clinton [McDonald] is going to make it easier for me, and Will [Gholston], Akeem [Spence], everybody. I just want to return the favor. It's all about working as a unit. I think the best D-Lines are the ones that work good together."