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. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.
  2. Rays vs. Cubs, 7:10 p.m. Wednesday, Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tonight: vs. Cubs

    7:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM; 680-AM (Spanish)

    Tampa Bay Rays' Blake Snell poses for a picture during the team's photo day at baseball spring training in Port Charlotte, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  3. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Tuesday's Rays-Cubs game

    The Heater

    Chris Archer's night ended with his 11th loss, but he and the Rays should feel good about his six solid innings. After the forearm tightness scare in Chicago, he had two rough outings (15 hits, 11 runs, seven innings), so Tuesday was a reassuring rebound.

  4. At 6-8, Lightning prospect Oleg Sosunov comes with, and needs, a high ceiling

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — When Hall of Famer Phil Esposito first saw Lightning prospect Oleg Sosunov, he joked that the 6-foot-8 defenseman could reach the Amalie Arena ceiling.

    Lightning 6-foot-8 defenseman Oleg Sosunov competes in the preseason opener. Phil Esposito jokes that Sosunov can reach the ceiling at Amalie Arena.
  5. Jones: Rays' Kevin Cash doesn't mind following in Joe Maddon's steps

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — On this particular night, he's the other guy. He's like a talk-show guest scooted to the end of the couch. He is Kevin Cash. And the Rays manager is standing in the home dugout at Tropicana Field.

    ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 17: Manager Kevin Cash (L) of the Tampa Bay Rays reacts to action during the game against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field on September 17, 2017 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images) 700012494