Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Akeem Spence may play key role for Bucs on Sunday

TAMPA — Akeem Spence's timing couldn't be better.

The third-year Bucs defensive tackle, sidelined since having lower back surgery in July, made his season debut off the bench in Sunday's loss at Washington.

This weekend, with starting defensive tackle Clinton McDonald limited by a pectoral muscle injury and the Bucs facing the NFL's leading rusher, Atlanta's Devonta Freeman, Spence could be called on for a much larger role.

"This week is a big week for me, stepping into a starting role," Spence said Thursday. "I have to pick up where I left off and keep it going. I know my preparation has to be that much more than weeks before."

Defensive tackle has quickly gone from one of the Bucs' deepest positions to one fortunate to have Spence, 23, back. McDonald's injury came Sunday after the Bucs were already without backup Tony McDaniel, who remains sidelined by a groin injury. That leaves Pro Bowl player Gerald McCoy, Spence and backup Henry Melton as the only defensive tackles, though starting end Will Gholston could help inside if necessary.

In the summer, Spence's future was uncertain after he injured his back in a weightlifting accident. He initially thought the injury was minor until he started having pain and tingling in his legs. He had surgery July 2. He didn't return to practice until last week after he was activated from the physically unable to perform list.

"When you miss this much time with a serious back injury like that, there is a concern, especially at the position," coach Lovie Smith said. "(We) talked about double teams. (He's) going to get double teamed every time, but he's healthy, ready to go, and he's given us good reps when he's been healthy. It's good to get him a few (Sunday), and he'll get more this week."

The Bucs had a three-week window in which to activate Spence to the roster, but that decision was accelerated by McDaniel's injury. Having made it through a week of practice without a setback, Spence played 15 snaps as a backup against the Redskins, logging a single quarterback hit.

"It felt great, just getting back out there with my teammates. Just to move around and get some contact, my back felt great," the 6-foot-1, 307-pound former Illinois star said.

If the Bucs don't have McDonald at all against the Falcons, they'll be without their top run-stopper on the defensive line. His 19 lead tackles on running plays are the most on the team, ahead of linebacker Lavonte David, so Spence will be challenged to lead the effort against Freeman, who leads the NFL with 621 rushing yards.

Spence is no slouch against the run. He started 14 games as a rookie in 2013 and had 29 tackles. He was moved into a backup role for most of last season but still finished with more tackles — 37 (two more than McCoy) — along with three sacks and two fumble recoveries.

Recovering from a back injury requires caution, and Spence said being on the physically unable to perform list took away any pressure he might have put on himself to try to get back sooner than he was ready.

"It being your back, you want to take it careful, and that's what we did," Spence said. "The medical staff, the GM (Jason Licht) and coach, I was glad they took care of me like that. It seems like I came back at the right time."

The Bucs have just started a run of 11 straight games to close the year, and Spence's injury saved him from the grind of the first month of the season, which Smith said should help him in his return.

"He was rested and a fresh body," Smith said of Spence's return. "As a nose guard, that's a big thing this time of the season.

"(Spence) has played good football for us, so to have a player to fall back on like that meant a lot to us. There's a reason why he's one of our guys, and we were waiting for him to be able to be active, and we got him out there right away. He'll play better this coming week than he did this past."

Contact Greg Auman at gauman@tampabay.com and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.

Akeem Spence may play key role for Bucs on Sunday 10/29/15 [Last modified: Thursday, October 29, 2015 10:14pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rowdies shut out at Pittsburgh

    Soccer

    PITTSBURGH — The Rowdies lost their first USL game in nearly a month, 1-0 to Pittsburgh on Thursday night.

  2. LSU's Paul Mainieri defends FSU's Mike Martin; Gators play Friday

    College

    OMAHA, Neb. — LSU coach Paul Mainieri says whether Florida State's Mike Martin ever wins a national championship should have no bearing on how his long career in college baseball is judged.

    MADE IT: Josh Watson beats the tag of Louisville catcher Colby Fitch during TCU’s 4-3 win in the College World Series.
  3. Lightning fans, don't get attached to your first-round draft picks

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — When Lightning GM Steve Yzerman announces his first-round pick tonight in the amateur draft at No. 14, he'll invite the prospect onto the stage for the once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.

    Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) eludes  Montreal Canadiens left wing Phillip Danault (24) during the second period of Wednesday???‚??„?s (12/28/16) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Montreal Canadiens at the Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  4. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman also has top-9 wing on his wish list

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — Much has been made about the Lightning's interest in bolstering its blue line, even after last week's acquisition of defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev.

    Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman gestures as he speaks to the media about recent trades during a news conference before an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. The Lightning, over the past few days, have traded goaltender Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings, forward Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and forward Valtteri Filppula to the Philadelphia Flyers. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA101