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Noah Spence looks better every game

NFL: Denver Broncos at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Noah Spence in the second round hoping to have landed a dominant pass-rusher who fell because of overblown off-field issues. So far, he’s done very well staying out of trouble off the field. On the field, he’s been a little less consistent, with two sacks so far.

The encouraging thing is that Spence has been improving rather quickly. At the start of the season, Spence would get stuck on offensive tackles and blown off the ball in run defense, severely limiting his playing time. Now, he’s doing things like this:

Now Joe Staley isn’t who he used to be, but this is still really impressive, in part because this is not a pure speed rush. Spence gets Staley to sit down on the power rush, then jumps outside, and has the agility to redirect to and affect the quarterback. He’s just barely too late to actually get the ball, but this is a very promising play.

After a somewhat slow start, the Bucs have had to accelerate Spence’s development, in part because of all the injuries to other defensive linemen. And so far, defensive coordinator Mike Smith is very pleased.

“Noah has had to play a lot more snaps than we had anticipated,” Smith said. ”We really felt like early on that he would be only a pass rush specialist, or what we call a ‘designated pass rusher’ in our defense. And his pitch count was up and snap count was up, close to 50. So, he had to play and be prepared to play in some of our base, in some of our big sub packages. Very pleased with what he is doing.”

Spence still struggles in run defense, which is why undrafted rookie Davonte Lambert has been getting a lot of playing time, but he’s improving rapidly and actually earning playing time, rather thanbeing gifted it due to circumstances.