Bucs DT Akeem Spence ready to step up as starter, again
With the Bucs' two starting defensive tackles, Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald, both unlikely to play in tonight's game at Carolina due to injuries, Tampa Bay will again count on backup Akeem Spence as a replacement starter for the third year in a row.
Spence played just 38 snaps in the Bucs' first three games as Tampa Bay leaned heavily on McCoy and McDonald, who played 87 percent of the defensive tackle snaps. McCoy was lost to a calf injury last week against the Broncos after only 12 plays, so Spence was pressed into duty, playing 48 snaps. After one total tackle in three weeks, he had five against Denver, one short of his career high.
"It didn't come as a surprise last week, because I prepared like I was going to play and be the starter," Spence said. "That's what I've been doing every week. I didn't get the snaps like I wanted the first couple of weeks, but it's a long season in the NFL. G went down and I had to step up."
Spence has been there before. After starting 14 games as a rookie in 2013, he was relegated to a bench role when the Bucs signed McDonald. When McDonald and McCoy dealt with injuries at the end of 2014, Spence started the final five games, totaling 19 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Last year, Spence missed the first five games with a back injury, but another injury to McDonald thrust him into the starting lineup for seven games before his season too ended due to injury.
McDonald suffered a hamstring injury in Thursday's practice, so Spence might be the Bucs' top defensive tackle -- the only other healthy one on roster is John Hughes, signed earlier this week. Some of the Bucs' bigger defensive ends can fill in inside as well, but Spence is prepared for a significant role against Carolina.
"That's why they've got guys like us," Spence said. "Will (Gholston) can step in at any time and play all positions. We're definitely ready for it."
The Bucs have already dealt with depth issues at defensive end, where George Johnson was lost to a hip injury in preseason and Jacquies Smith tore his ACL after one play in the season opener. Starter Robert Ayers has missed the last two games with an ankle injury and is doubtful for Carolina, with second-round pick Noah Spence questionable with a shoulder injury.
Rookies DaVonte Lambert and Channing Ward have stepped up with major playing time as a result, and Spence said the entire defensive line has the goal of having little dropoff from the starters.
"It's a next man up mentality -- they've done a great job," Spence said. "Every time they've gotten in there, they haven't batted an eye. They haven't blinked. I've got to do the same thing Monday night. If I have to go 50 snaps, if I have to go 10 snaps, it doesn't matter."