On Saturday, during a visit to watch training camp practice and talk to some young defensive linemen, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers great Simeon Rice stood next to his own image in the "Moment of Victory" statue that graces the lobby of One Buccaneer Place. Fifteen years after the Super Bowl that inspired that statue and nearly a decade since he last played in the NFL, Rice still looks like he could pose for the sculpting of that same work of art.
Rice is a filmmaker now, among other things, but he remains one of the best pure pass-rushers in franchise history. In many ways, his onfield accomplishments are worthy of commemoration in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And when he gets back on the football field, even just to watch from the sideline, nearby coaches can't help but take notice.
FEATURE: THE CASE FOR SIMEON RICE
"I just told Simeon Rice … we'd suit him up if he thought he could get 10 [sacks]," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter, when reminded for the millionth time that Rice is the last Buccaneer to post a 10-sack season. "He said he could get us five. He'll get us five and teach those young guys how to get some."
That latter goal was the main reason for Rice's visit to camp on Saturday. The Buccaneers have a promising young pass-rusher in Noah Spence, a second-round pick in 2016 who has his teammates and coaches expecting big things in 2017. Spence and another intriguing young edge rusher, Ryan Russell, routinely put in extra work after the end of practice, and on Saturday that took the form of a 10-minute lesson from Rice.
Photos of Former Bucs' DE Simeon Rice
"I guess he's seen us working – me and Ryan try to get some in every day after practice to try to get better," said Spence, who said it only took five minutes with Rice to find new things he could add to his game. "He was able to come around and give us a hand. How do I work better, more efficient? I'm learning things at that position about how to rush a lot better.
"It made me think about stuff that I need to work on. He just pointed out little things that can tighten my game … so it was a blessing that he talked to us."
Indeed, it was the extra work being put in by Spence and Russell that drew Rice in their direction after practice.
"It's interesting to see because I'm watching him after practice and they're working," said Rice. "I'm like, 'Yo, this kid wants to be special. This kid is going to be special.' If you search for it long enough, you will find it."
Have the Bucs found it? As Rice accurately pointed out, top-notch quarterback hunters don't grow on trees. There's a reason that the most promising pass-rushers are usually drafted around the same spot as the most promising passers. Both are difficult to acquire and both can change the game dramatically, as Rice did for six-plus seasons in Tampa. Rice thinks the Bucs might have indeed found their next such player for their franchise in Spence.
"They don't come around – it's a generational thing to have that type of ability," said the 19th-leading sack artist in NFL history. "There's only going to be one J.J. Watt in the NFL, there's only going to be one Warren Sapp in the NFL, there's only going to be one player similar to myself. It's a once-in-a-lifetime situation – you've got to take advantage of it. I truly believe that with the ability that Noah has, that he has something that he hasn't shown the world yet that he's capable of being. He could be in a very select group."
Some of what Rice imparted to Spence and Russell was of the motivational variety, but he also got hands-on, playing the part of an offensive tackle and running the two young players through reps with comments on details such as hand placement. One concrete lesson that Spence took from the session with Rice is one that would surely please Koetter, as it was similar to what the coach told another high 2016 draft pick, Vernon Hargreaves, in order to unlock the best version of himself. That lesson: Be aggressive.
"I guess rush more aggressive, make them react off of me instead of [me] reacting off the offensive tackle," said Spence. "That will slow me down a lot more than if I'm just going off myself."
Spence was the eighth pick of the second round in 2016, number 39 overall. Rice went even higher back in 1996, grabbed third overall by the Arizona Cardinals. He rushed right out of the gate with a 12.5-sack rookie campaign, then dipped to 5.0 sacks in 1997 before starting a run of seven double-digit sack totals in an eight-year span. Five of those came with Tampa Bay, ending in a 14.0-sack season in 2005, infamously the last one of 10 or more by a Buccaneer.
Spence had 5.5 sacks in his first NFL season, hitting his stride in the middle before fading a bit at the end. He also had to deal with a shoulder injury that required a harness during games for most of the year. Rice wants Spence to approach the game with the same confidence level that he did, which could lead to the same decade of dominance.
"I came in the league with a high sense of confidence – you know, rookie of the year, a little brash sometimes, rubbed people the wrong way sometimes – but it's all because I really believed in what I was putting on the field," said Rice. "Right out of the gate I believed in what I was capable of doing, becoming what I was capable of being and I truly wanted to be the best.
"[Spence] reminds me very much of myself. He has the talent. He has the capabilities. He has to allow it to shine now – don't hide it from the world. Be what you are capable of being, do what you are capable of doing."
Spence and Russell bore serious expressions throughout their session with Rice, but they were all smiles afterward. Spence said it didn't take long for Rice's attitude – he likes to refer to himself as "effervescent" – to rub off on him.
"[Rice's confidence] is contagious, for sure," said Spence. "I think he helped us a lot to just come out here and redefine [our approach]. We know what we can be, we've just got to go out there and do it."
Rice's post-playing career has included the production of the movie Unsullied, an action horror thriller that came out in 2014. He says he is currently working on another feature film and a documentary on his own playing days. He's got plenty of pursuits to occupy his time, but he still wanted to use some of it to make an impression on a new generation of – hopefully – Buccaneer stars.
"Because I was young once," said Rice of the motivation for his visit. "There is no greater gratification [than] to be able to see these guys become something that they're capable of becoming. I take great pleasure in seeing people rise. I take great pleasure out of seeing people become great. I was telling them, I'll never forget when I was playing here, Rod Marinelli gave me the rookies – those were the guys I worked with because I took a special appreciation and liking to them and I knew they looked up to me, so I wanted to in part what it took to be a champion, what it took to be great."