Cowboys LB Spencer seeking 1st sack of season

Nov 25, 2009 - 12:28 AM By JAIME ARON AP Sports Writer

IRVING, Texas(AP) -- The story of outside linebacker Anthony Spencer's season has been the near miss, as in all those sacks the Cowboys' new starter opposite DeMarcus Ware was close to getting but didn't.

So when a victory-sealing interception was coming his way in the final minutes of the last game, and teammate Jay Ratliff reached for it, Spencer feared he was going to miss out again.

"I was thinking, 'Please don't touch it. Just don't hit it. Don't knock it out of my hands. Don't let anything else go wrong,"' Spencer said.

Spencer made the play, all right. Now he's hoping it is the first of many breaks to go his way - preferably starting Thursday, when the Cowboys face his predecessor, Greg Ellis, and the Oakland Raiders.

Ellis was cut after 11 seasons largely because Dallas wanted to turn his job to Spencer, a first-round pick in 2007. Although they spent two years basically fighting for playing time, Ellis still mentored the youngster.

Judging by the stat sheet, Ellis either didn't teach Spencer all his tricks or Spencer wasn't paying close enough attention.

Ellis had 12 1/2 sacks in 13 games in 2007 and eight more last season, mostly by taking advantage of one-on-one matchups from offenses more worried about stopping Ware. Facing more of the same, all Spencer has to show is 18 quarterback pressures.

"I try not to really pound myself too hard about it, just because I know if I stay focused and confident, good things will happen," Spencer said. "I try not to look at the stats. I look at the stats at the end of the year, but right now, I just try to make as many plays as possible. That's my biggest thing, just making plays."

Spencer mostly played on first and second downs last year, with Ellis coming in on obvious passing situations. Yet he still had 1 1/2 sacks - and three as a rookie.

Spencer's lack of sacks are one thing. But Ware's numbers are down, too - just seven so far after having 20 last season. Part of the drop-off could be because offenses know it only takes one blocker to keep Spencer off the quarterback.

Coaches remain supportive of Spencer, pointing to all those near-misses as an indication he's on the verge of breaking through.

"He has rushed well," said Wade Phillips, Dallas' coach and defensive coordinator. "It hasn't fallen for him. You know, it can happen at any time as far as the pass rush is concerned. ... He sees what's happening. We talk to him about this and that. He runs stunts really well, which helps Ratliff. He is part of a team effort."

Spencer's solace comes from the team's success. Dallas is 7-3 and leading the NFC East, with the defense being a big reason for it.

"I sleep pretty well at night," he said. "I don't watch too much TV. I don't pay attention to it to much."

Still, he admits that that it's frustrating being stuck on zero sacks after 10 games.

"At the same time, what I can I do?" he said. "I'm just doing my job and hoping for the best. I mean, that's basically all I can do, just stay focused and confident in what I'm doing."

Take away the pass-rushing part of his job and Spencer has been pretty good.

He's tied with Ratliff for the team lead in tackles for loss and his single interception actually makes him tied for second. He's even fifth in passes defended and sixth in tackles. His 18 pressures are tied for second, four fewer than Ware.

Back on Oct. 4, against Denver, Spencer had an interception go through his hands and right to a Broncos receiver for a touchdown. Had Spencer caught it, he might've gone all the way for a touchdown.

So he's hoping his interception against the Redskins is the start of a new trend.

"It was important to me because I felt like I was in position to make plays and I wasn't making them," Spencer said. "It's all about confidence in this league. If you are not playing with confidence, it's hard to play in this league. That was just a confidence booster."

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