Bucs DE Spence ready to shoulder greater load

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Noah Spence (57) was limited to six games in 2017.Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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Recurring shoulder separations have stalled the career of Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Noah Spence.

As he prepares to enter his third season with Tampa Bay, Spence is hoping that the second of two shoulder surgeries will keep him on the field and allow him to fulfill the promise of a second-round draft pick.

Spence appeared in only six games in 2017, making three starts, before finally landing on season-ending injured reserve after suffering his fourth right shoulder separation.

“I think that was a blessing,” Spence told the team’s website of having the surgery last season. “I think that was the biggest thing, that it happened during the season and not after the season so I wouldn’t be struggling to get back for the next season. Since it happened during the season I had all of the rest of the season to get healed up and a whole offseason to stay right, keep rehabbing and get ready for the season.”

Spence started three of 16 games as a rookie in 2016 and registered 5.5 sacks. He underwent surgery on the shoulder following the season, only to dislocate it in Week 2.

“Noah’s just had a hard time staying healthy, two unfortunate injuries,” Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter said Thursday. “He did all he could do, he got them fixed. So, he’s taking care of his body. He has his weight where it needs to be. Physically, he looks great out there.”

Spence said his weight dipped to as low as 228 pounds last season but he has gained nearly 30 pounds to get closer to his ideal playing weight.

“Just eating habits, working out a lot more,” said Spence. “I eat like 10 meals a day now, and like seven different shakes throughout the day. Last year I got down to 228 during camp. Now I’m at 257 so I’m feeling a lot better.”

The Buccaneers overhauled the defensive line in the offseason, drafting Vita Vea with their first-round pick while adding Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry — moves that have Spence eager to get back on the field.

“I grew up watching JPP and Vinny a lot, and it’s crazy that I’m on the same team as them now,” said Spence. “It’s just a blessing to be able to learn from them, talk to them in the locker room and just get little tips from them to play defensive line better.”

Spence admitted the he feels he has something to prove, particularly after watching Tampa Bay’s defense rank last in yards allowed and sacks last season.

“You know that hurt, but it pushed me to be a lot better this season,” said Spence. “It pushed me to step up my eating habits and step up my study habits and try to be the best person I can be on and off the field.”