Spencer’s strong play con­tin­ues to im­press Cow­boys

Sec­ond-year starter emerg­ing as a force in Dal­las de­fense

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Stephen Hawkins

SAN AN­TO­NIO — Wade Phillips was rav­ing about the stand­out play by one of his out­side lineback­ers. Then the Dal­las Cow­boys coach com­pared that player to Hall of Famer to-be Rickey Jack­son.

Phillips wasn’t dis­cussing Cow­boys sacks leader DeMar­cus Ware. The head coach-de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor in­stead was talk­ing about An­thony Spencer, the linebacker on the op­po­site side of the four-time Pro Bowler.

“He’s be­come a dom­i­nant player at his po­si­tion. That’s aw­fully im­por­tant for us,” Phillips said. “An­thony has to drop, he has to whip the tight end and then he has to rush. Be­ing able to do all three of those things, he came on in the mid­dle of last year and just played as well as any­one I’ve been around.”

While Ware still dom­i­nated on his side as the pri­mary pass rusher with more than 10 sacks for the fourth con­sec­u­tive sea­son, Spencer emerged as a force on the other when fi­nally given the chance a year ago to be a full-time starter. He was nearly as un­stop­pable as Ware once he set­tled into his ex­panded role.

“He has come along very well. Tak­ing pres­sure off me and hav­ing play­ers like that, it’s great,” Ware said.

“I’ve never been a per­son lack­ing con­fi­dence,” Spencer said. “I have the ut­most con­fi­dence in my­self and my abil­ity to play. Once you start mak­ing those plays, it be­comes a lot eas­ier to make them all the time.”

Spencer had six sacks in the last six reg­u­lar-sea­son games, af­ter hav­ing none in the first 10 games. He also had one sack in each of the Cow­boys’ two play­off games and 77 tack­les over that clos­ing eight-game span for the NFC East cham­pi­ons.

“I worked hard at it,’’ he said. “I put a lot of ex­tra time into it.’’

Phillips be­lieves Spencer and Ware make up the best tan­dem of out­side lineback­ers in the NFL right now. And they might wind up be­ing the best duo he has seen in his nearly 3½ decades coach­ing in the league.

“I’m not sure they aren’t, but let’s let them do it again,” Phillips said.

Spencer plays on the same side that Jack­son did for Phillips, who was the de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor for the New Or­leans Saints from 1981-85 dur­ing Jack­son’s first five NFL sea­sons.

“I don’t see a lot of dif­fer­ence as far as how (Spencer) plays that po­si­tion,” Phillips said.

Jack­son is be­ing in­ducted next month into the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame in Can­ton, where the Cow­boys play their pre­sea­son opener. Re­porters, not the coach, shared with Spencer the com­par­i­son to Phillips’ for­mer pupil.

“It’s great to hear my coach say that. At the same time, you don’t want to get com­pla­cent.

“I feel like I have got a long way to go. I look at more the things I’m not do­ing right than the things I’m do­ing good,” Spencer said.

Af­ter be­ing drafted out of Pur­due, Spencer be­came only the fourth rookie linebacker to start a sea­son opener for Dal­las. (Ware was an­other, in 2005). Spencer started his first six NFL games fill­ing in for an in­jured Greg El­lis, then didn’t start again un­til last year when the vet­eran was cut af­ter 11 sea­sons.

“It was just a me com­ing into my own type of thing, be­cause when Greg was here, I was in and out of the game. And then when he was gone, I was in the game full time,” Spencer said. “Ev­ery­one has their moment. Ei­ther you’re ready for it or you’re not.”

Tony Gu­tier­rez

An­thony Spencer av­er­aged one sack per game over the Cow­boys’ last six reg­u­lar-sea­son games in 2009.

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