Noah Spence, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' rookie pass-rusher, is getting plenty of help from his veteran teammates, but if he needs some extra tutelage he can always turn to YouTube.
The Buccaneers' drafted Spence with the 39th overall pick in the draft in the hopes of adding spice to a pass-rush that has been underwhelming at times. Gerald McCoy is one of the NFL's best at applying pressure from the interior line, but a consistent complementary rush from the edge has been lacking. Tampa Bay hasn't had an individual player turn in a 10-sack since the great Simeon Rice more than a decade ago, in 2005. Spence, meanwhile, was widely considered one of the best pure pass-rushers in this year's rookie class.
Of course, no draft pick is a sure thing, no matter how glowing the scouting report. Spence definitely put his natural talents on display at Ohio State and Eastern Kentucky, in that order, but now it's up to the his new team to develop and deploy this skills well at the NFL level. Spence says he's getting a lot of support and attention as the Bucs began that process in their offseason program.
"Honestly, all of the vets in the D-line room, we're all like a family," he said. "It feels like home to be in there with those guys, so there's not one particular [who helps]. Just everybody gives me little points and I take something away from everybody."
If Spence takes a pass-rushing tip from McCoy or learns a new move from Robert Ayers, the other new pass-rusher the team brought in via free agency, it will be nothing new. He's always been hungry to study and adopt the techniques of the NFL's best sack artists. In addition to watching the game on Sundays, he would often look for highlights on YouTube during the week leading up to his own contests.
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Spence once found a clip that blew him away; it showed Kansas City Chiefs' linebacker Justin Houston with a bit of creative inspiration that led to a sack. To see the move that inspired the young pass-rusher, click here and go to the 2:48 mark of the highlight compilation.
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"I think it was against the Eagles, I forget what year," said Spence. "He went inside like five steps and then came back out and had the tackle looking crazy. I was like, 'Man, that's nuts.' I watch highlights before games. It gives me moves and it helps me."
Houston is a favorite target for Spence when he's highlight hunting, and the first name that he mentions when asked who he would like to pattern his game after in the NFL. Analysts have made that comparison, too, and others to Denver Broncos superstar Von Miller. Those are, shall we say, aggressive comparisons, and perhaps unfair expectations at this point. But they are based more on the type of player that Spence is, and his dimensions. Had he been drafted by a team that operates out of a 3-4 defense, he would likely be listed as a linebacker, like Houston and Miller are. The Miami Dolphins have another similar pass-rusher that Spence also studies to help hone his own game.
"I love Justin Houston, Cameron Wake, of course Von [Miller]," said Spence. "But I really like Cam Wake's game, his get-off, his relentlessness playing defense, stuff like that."
While the Buccaneers will continue to identify as a 4-3 team under new Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith, they will show multiple fronts – as is Smith's wont – and some of them will resemble 3-4 looks. Spence, in fact, might be one of the main players who helps Smith and the Bucs blur that line. He said his work on the practice field so far has included right end snaps with his hand in the ground and sub-package work where he's standing up at various spots on the line. So far, Spence has been happy with his assignments.
"I really like all of the schemes we're doing and all of the packages they've got me in so far, so it's been good," he said. "I think it's going pretty good. I'm just trying to learn the defense and everything and getting together with all the guys and everything like that. Just learning this defense. That's the best thing."
Five months ago, Spence helped his draft stock considerably by dominating during Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Alabama. Right now, he's impressing again on the One Buccaneer Place practice fields, although NFL offseason rules have not allowed any of the players to put on pads yet. At this point, he's making as good of an impression with his approach as with his skill set.
"He's looked really good," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter after Thursday's OTA practice, which tested the players with intense heat and humidity. "I love his attitude, definitely has pass rush ability, love how our defensive coaches are bringing him along, but especially I just like his attitude and the way he's approaching it every day."
By the way, after absorbing that Justin Houston YouTube highlight, Spence, by his own account, used Houston's sick move in his next Eastern Kentucky game and turned it into a sack, one of the 13.5 he had last fall. Spence brings innate speed and power to the NFL but surely doesn't have a full array of pass-rush moves yet. That should come, if he can keep absorbing lessons from both his teammates and the odd highlight reel now and then.
"I mean, I feel like I came in with a couple of moves I really liked that I'm just trying to perfect now," said Spence, responding to comments from teammates about his preparedness. "I mean, if that's what they're talking about. I don't know the playbook all like that yet, but when it comes to pass rushing I think I'm pretty good."