With team facilities just now getting the green light to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but NFL players still unable to return, each athlete is doing what he can to remain in shape and prepared for the potential opening of training camp in July. While both wise and admirable, as with any physical conditioning, players take on the same injury risk they would if they were in minicamp, if not more so when taking into account the absence of team trainers and coaches to dictate and monitor the workouts. Noah Spence was unfortunately reminded of this reality, becoming the first player to suffer a major injury while attempting to stay in shape during quarantine.
The former second-round pick has reportedly suffered a torn ACL and will be moved to the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list by the New Orleans Saints, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, ending his 2020 season far before it can begin. The team signed linebacker Anthony Chickillo to fill Spence’s now-vacant roster spot — a former sixth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers (2015) who played five seasons under Mike Tomlin before now heading to Louisiana.
Spence has been a journeyman since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected him with the 39th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, unable to live up to his draft value after a solid rookie campaign that saw him deliver 5.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and two pass deflections in 16 games played but just two starts. He was never able to duplicate or level up the success from Year 1, landing on injured reserve in Year 2 with a shoulder issue that led him to miss 10 games.
He’d return in 2018 but produced zero sacks en route to becoming a final roster cutdown casualty the year after, then signing with the Washington Redskins in mid-September.
That stay didn’t last long, with the Redskins waiving Spence in November 2019 after seeing him deliver only one sack in seven games with no starts, but the Saints saw fit to give him a shot one month later to aid with the team’s injury issues on the defensive line. Spence was re-signed in March, but has now torn his ACL in April, and the 26-year-old must now rehab his injury while worrying if he can convince another team to give him a shot in 2021. His latest injury serves as a warning to players around the league who are all-in on staying ready for camp during the COVID-19 pandemic, in that they must still take whatever precautions necessary to make sure they can actually be available when/if it opens.
That isn’t to say Spence did not, but rather that others should make sure they do.