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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Will the Bucs pull the trigger on talented but troubled Spence?

Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence is arguably the most gifted pass rusher in the NFL draft.

AP photo

Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence is arguably the most gifted pass rusher in the NFL draft.

26

February

He played hard and partied harder. That was the pattern for Noah Spence at Ohio State. He went from an All Big 10 defensive end with 7.5 sacks and 14 tackles for losses to being banned from the school he loved for twice failing drug tests issued by the conference.

His life in the fast lane was fueled by alcohol and ecstasy at parties.  “It was a group of people I can’t hang with,’’ Spence said Friday at the NFL scouting combine. “I mean, I had to be more to myself and stay away from the party scene… It was never really an addiction.’’

For more than eight minutes Friday, Spence answered the same questions being asked by NFL teams this week in Indianapolis.

Arguably the most gifted pass rusher in the NFL draft, the cost of his drug use is hard to quantify. Already, it forced him to be banished to Ohio State and to make a comeback at Eastern Kentucky. Not long after arriving there came an alcohol-related arrest. But with Colonels, he also dominated last season with 11.5 sacks, 22.5 tackles for a loss, 63 tackles (31 solo), 15 quarterback hurries, forced three fumbles and two fumble recoveries. At the Senior Bowl last month, the 6-foot-3, 261-pound Spence was the most natural and effective pass rusher.

His former Ohio State teammate, Joey Bosa, who called Spence ‘a good guy,’ is likely to be the first defensive lineman off the board. Oregon’s DeForest Buckner should also be gone by the time the Bucs select No. 9 overall.

With Tampa Bay’s most glaring need for an edge pass rusher, can they afford to pass up a talent such as Spence? Or could he wind up like the Cowboys' Randy Gregory, a defensive end with two positive tests for marijuana at Nebraska, another at the combine and currently facing a four-game suspension?

“Like I said, I feel like everything I’ve ever done is out in the open,’’ Spence said. “I’ve never gotten away with anything.  So, I mean, it’s all there. There isn’t anything to hide.’’

Spence said the only drug he ever tested positive for was ecstasy, also known as Molly or the hug drug, a psychoactive drug chemically similar to the stimulant methamphetamine and producing an energizing effect, as well as distortions in time and perception.

He said with the help of his dad, he learned to become more introspective and break away from the party scene and people who used drugs. He says he has been tested about once a week since his suspension, a routine that is continuing.

“I mean, just stayed on top of it. I’ve been drug tested frequently and focused more on football, school and stuff like that,’’ Spence said. “It was a group of people I can’t hang with. I mean, I had to be more to myself and stay away from the party scene.

“I spend a lot more time by myself. I’ve got a girlfriend now, I chill, to movies and stuff like that. I don’t do much partying nowadays.’’

Eastern Kentucky, an outpost in the Ohio Valley Conference, provided him with a focus on football.

“I knew what I did. I knew why I was there and I knew it was a business trip for me,’’ Spence said. “It was a great school. I wanted to win and everything like that. But I knew coming in there what I wanted to do and what I wanted to get out of the situation.’’

Even though he is a first-round talent, Spence doesn’t know where he will be drafted. Given what he’s been through, he doesn’t seem to care.

“I don’t have any expectations,’’ Spence said. “I feel blessed to be in this situation. I mean, I didn’t even feel I would be back here, so where ever I go is fine.’’

[Last modified: Friday, February 26, 2016 4:53pm]

    

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