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Buccaneers position battles 2016: can Noah Spence win a starting job?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Minicamp Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a day off today, which means we can talk about some players who are difficult to evaluate in training camp, and where they’re going from here. One such player is second-round draft pick Noah Spence, the linebacker/defensive end/pass-rush specialist out of Eastern Kentucky who may be the very best pure pass-rusher in the entire draft. Jenna Laine of ESPN predicts he’ll make a strong case for a starting job, though she stops short of claiming he’ll actually win it.

In the first practice in training camp, while lining up with the second-team defense, Spence blew past veteran right tackle Gosder Cherilus. He affords the Bucs some flexibility with their fronts because he can dip back into coverage too. Plus, he and Robert Ayers make a great tandem when Ayers lines up inside, where he had about half of his sacks with the Giants. With Jacquies Smith at left defensive end and Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy in his usual spot, that has the makings of a scary pass rush

While Noah Spence should get a lot of playing time as a rookie, I’m not sure I can see him starting. Given his small frame, he’ll likely struggle against the run as a rookie, and the Bucs have a number of quality run defenders who can offer some pass rush on early downs. That’s really normal for rookie defensive ends: Aldon Smith didn’t start a game in his first year, while Robert Quinn wasn’t even active for the first half of his rookie season. Both of them turned out to be dominant pass-rushers — though Smith has struggled for other reasons.

Spence’s explosiveness is hard to keep off the field, and he should at minimum get playing time on passing downs — and likely a little more often, too. And if he can show some quality pass rush, it won’t be long before he’s taking the majority of the snaps at defensive ends.