Ex-Buckeye Noah Spence tries to convince NFL his partying is in past

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Noah Spence has first-round talent but also has some baggage.

Don Juan Moore

INDIANAPOLIS -- Bible passages. Inspirational messages. A photo of a visit with a young bone-cancer patient at a hospital. Another with friends at a Christian fellowship dinner.

Is this the real Noah Spence or has someone hacked his Twitter account?

It's one of the questions that NFL teams have two months to answer before this year's NFL Draft.

When breezing through the @nspence94 timeline, you could never guess that one of the top pass-rushing prospects had ever gotten into so much trouble. Spence transferred from Ohio State to Eastern Kentucky after multiple failed drug tests. Before playing his first game for the Colonels, Spence was arrested last May for public intoxication and second-degree disorderly conduct after breaking a glass bottle on the ground near a vehicle.

Spence, though, swears he has changed. His Twitter account would indicate so. Spence continues to take weekly drug tests to prove he's clean. And Spence admits to the mistakes he began making when he was unable to resist some of the temptations that surround major college football programs like Ohio State's.

"I've grown from the situation," Spence said Friday when addressing media at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I've become a better person."

The key for Spence now is convincing NFL teams to believe this is truly the case.

From a talent standpoint alone, Spence should be a high first-round pick. He already proved he belonged with the best in college football by becoming an All-Big Ten first-team selection as an Ohio State freshman in 2013. The 6-foot-2, 254-pound Spence then dominated at a lower level with Eastern Kentucky, registering 13.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for losses this past season. His performance at the Reese's Senior Bowl was strong as well.

But equally as important to Spence as returning to the field after being forced to sit out the 2014 season was how much he grew as a person in a much quieter setting like Richmond, Kentucky. During his time away, Spence also completed a drug rehabilitation program after two positive tests for the psychedelic drug Ecstasy.

"It was big," Spence told co-host Bruce Murray and me on SiriusXM NFL Radio about transferring to Eastern Kentucky. "There weren't as many people and stuff like that. There were small crowds. I had to realize how much I loved football without people cheering. But it was a great experience for me.

"It was definitely humbling. It would be humbling for anybody to go through something like that. I think I needed it, though. I feel like I had a little bit of a big head and an arrogance to myself at Ohio State that I don't have at all anymore."

Spence knows that interested NFL suitors won't just take him at his word. Through the interview process, they will try to determine whether Spence has the psychological makeup to avoid a recurrence. Teams also will conduct thorough background investigations to see whether Spence is telling the truth.

"Everyone knows everything that went on," Spence said. "It's not a secret.

Noah Spence admits his mistakes but will face tough questions from NFL suitors.

Trevor Ruszkowski

"I'm going to be honest about every situation I've been through. It's good for me that everything I've ever done has been out there in the open. I'm not going to lie about it."

But remember, even this research isn't infallible. Johnny Manziel fooled the Cleveland Browns by convincing club management that his partying days as "Johnny Football" at Texas A&M were behind him when they weren't.

Two of the most high-profile picks at outside linebacker in recent seasons – Von Miller and Dion Jordan – ended up getting into off-field trouble that Denver and Miami didn't forecast during their respective scouting. Miller was suspended for the first six games of the 2013 season after getting caught trying to cheat on a drug test by tampering with his urine sample. Jordan was suspended for the entire 2015 campaign after multiple failed tests under the league's substance-abuse policy.

Miller learned from his mistake to reemerge as one of the NFL's great pass rushers and win Super Bowl 50 MVP honors. Jordan's playing future remains nebulous.

So which path will Spence follow? The only one who can determine that is Spence himself.

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