FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Making your way in the NFL can be difficult for a rookie. The game is faster, the talent is better, and with grown men with families all around the locker room the consequences of losing are far greater than in college.
Bucs rookie defensive tackle Akeem Spence has come to realize that rather quickly, but he found a simple every-day objective that reduces the pressure he places on himself to perform at the level required.
“I just don’t want to hear any complaints coming my way from the coaches,’’ Spence said. “I figure if I just do my job here in practice each day during the week and then again on Sunday, they’ll trust me and everything will be good.’’
The game plan seems to be working. A 2013 fourth-round draft pick out of Illinois, Spence made the starting lineup out of training camp, and through two games he has three tackles and a fumble recovery.
That’s a solid start for a player who says the most difficult part of the transition for him has been the level of talent he faces every week. Spence admits there have been times he’s been a little star-struck.
“The guys I’m lining up against every week, it’s crazy,’’ Spence said. “The first week, in my first real NFL game, I line up and there’s (four-time Pro Bowl center) Nick Mangold on the other side of me.
“Then last week it was (four-time Pro Bowl) guard Jahri Evans and (Pro Bowl guard (Ben Grubbs). Now this week it’s (five-time Pro Bowl guard) Logan Mankins. Every week it’s a big-name guy, so you really have to bring your A game every down.’’
Can’t wait for Sunday
No one in the Bucs locker room was more eager for today’s game against the Patriots to arrive than kicker Rian Lindell.
With 1:06 to play against the Saints last week, Lindell missed a 47-yard field goal try that would have given the Bucs a 17-13 lead and forced the Saints to score a touchdown to win the game.
As it turned out, Lindell’s miss gave New Orleans a short field that New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees quickly traversed as he led the Saints to a winning field goal. That made for a long, tough week for Lindell.
“I wish I could say it’s the first time that something like that has happened, but it’s not,’’ the 14-year veteran said. “You do your best to prepare and put the odds in your favor, it just didn’t work out.’’
Lindell started to regain his confidence after he had a good day at practice Wednesday. The feeling of letting his team down will linger a little longer, though.
“You see the guys all battling and going through the practices and the heat and stuff, and I let them down, and that’s tough,’’ he said. “Especially when that’s all you do. I can’t even say, ‘Well, at least my kickoffs were good,’ because I don’t do that.’’
Michael Koenen handles kickoffs for the Bucs.
The Bucs have a big decision to make on Monday. After spending the past two weeks evaluating Olympic sprinter Jeff Demps, they must decide whether to keep the world-class sprinter on the roster.
All indications are the Bucs will do that.
They appear to find his speed intriguing enough to give him a shot as either a running back, a receiver, a return man or some combination of the three.
There is one question regarding Demps, though, that has yet to be answered. Why, with all the success he’s had as a member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic silver-medal 4x100-meter relay team, does he want to play football?
“Well, I love the game, but other than that I really can’t comment on that right now,’’ Demps said. “Get me down the road and I might be able to tell you, but I don’t know how far down the road we have to go.
“Could be weeks, months, years before I can tell you.’’