Photo via Getty Images

By the numbers, it looks like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offense is set up to be phenomenal this season. All the keys are there, with Jameis Winston holding the fate of the offense in his hands.

But what about the defense?

Tampa Bay’s defense wasn’t remarkable last year, but there’s one impact player who will change the course of the Buccaneers’ defense: defensive end Noah Spence.

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If you haven’t heard of him, that’s because he hasn’t spent that much time on the field. Last year was his rookie season, and it was plagued with injury.

In Week 4 he partially tore his labrum and dislocated his shoulder in a game against the Denver Broncos.

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Spence dislocated his shoulder and tore his labrum during a game against the Broncos. Photo via Icon Sportswire

In a show of his dedication to the sport and his team, he popped his shoulder back in before returning to the sideline and trying to get back into the game. This story continued for the rest of the season, as he played the next week, and the next 12 games after the injury.

Bucs general manager Jason Licht said “it’s hard to keep him off the field,” and Spence agrees—“Being away from it makes you want it even more,” he said during OTAs this Spring.

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Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter talks with Spence during a mini camp in Tampa. Photo via Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter also had high praise for his young defensive end after OTAs.

“He’s looked really good. I love his attitude, definitely has pass rush ability, love how our defensive coaches are bringing him along, but especially I just like his attitude and the way he’s approaching it every day.”

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Just as impressive as Spence’s dedication are his stats. Playing in a very limited role during his rookie season, Spence recorded 5.5 sacks despite being injured the entire time.

Now that Spence is in full health, many on the team are looking forward to his return to the field.

Veteran defensive end Robert Ayers sees big achievements in Spence’s future. “I think he’s a player who could be a 15-plus sack guy this year,” Ayers said in a press conference in May. “He’s going to tear some stuff up this year and I’m looking forward to it.”

This is a big claim considering the Bucs haven’t had a player with more than 10 sacks in a season since Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice in 2005.

Regardless, when you consider the fact that even in a limited role Spence was able to rack up 5.5 sacks, his future looks good. Fully healthy, he’ll be the key to the Bucs’ defensive prowess this upcoming season.

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Nicholai Babis is a sophomore International Studies major at Vassar College. He specializes in College Football. He is a lifelong Seminoles fan, as well as a Rays fan and a Tampa Bay Bucs fan. He grew up in Tampa, Florida. He is a co-owner of the JR report and works for Athletics at Vassar College. He is the college football contributor at the JR Report. Follow Nicholai on twitter @nibabis . Hit him up if you want to discuss CFB, NFL, golf, tennis, and more.

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