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Cowboys counting on Anthony Spencer at linebacker
SAN ANTONIO — When Anthony Spencer took his place in the Dallas Cowboys' starting lineup Thursday, it was a first. For the first time, he had Greg Ellis on the other sideline, not looking over his shoulder.
"It was different," Spencer said, "seeing him in another color."
Spencer, who had six starts in his first two seasons, finally is the unquestioned starter opposite DeMarcus Ware. Ellis was released in the off-season and signed with the Oakland Raiders, who beat the Cowboys' 31-10 in the exhibition opener.
The Cowboys are counting on Spencer to replace Ellis' numbers in their 3-4 defense. Ellis had 25 sacks and 97 tackles in his 38 games at outside linebacker after being moved there from defensive end by then-coach Bill Parcells in 2006.
The Cowboys have groomed Spencer to take over for Ellis since the day they drafted him with the 26th overall pick in 2007. The transition probably would have happened sooner if not for the knee and hamstring injuries Spencer had last season.
"We've seen in him what he's very capable of," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "I feel very good about him. I'm not concerned about Spencer in any way. I have high expectations for Anthony Spencer."
In 18 plays against the Raiders on Thursday, Spencer made one tackle: He dropped fullback Lorenzo Neal for a 2-yard loss on a dump-off pass in the red zone. Spencer also was noticed on the play he didn't make: He missed a tackle on the Raiders' 260-pound quarterback, JaMarcus Russell, on Russell's 18-yard scramble.
"He definitely gave me a little 1-2 step," Spencer said with a smile. "He's more elusive than I thought he was going to be. I've just got to move my feet a little bit more."
The Cowboys gave Spencer high grades for his play against the run, but when the team returned to work Saturday, coaches talked to Spencer and Ware about getting more pressure on the quarterback. Even though the Cowboys didn't game-plan for the Raiders and used only a basic package, Russell was sacked only once and had too much time in going 6-for-9 for 50 yards.
"(Spencer) had a few good pass rushes," Cowboys linebackers coach Reggie Herring said. "We told them as a group we wish we would have had more sacks in the game, but we were close to the quarterback a couple times. We're just continuing to work on a complete game with him — pass rush, run defense. So far he's done a great job. He's been consistent.
"Hey, it's a start. We expect him to play a lot more here going into the next couple games. We'll know more then, but right now he's on schedule."
With Ware drawing most of the attention from opposing teams, Spencer should have plenty of one-on-ones this season. He also finally will have a chance to play full time, with Ellis now in Oakland.
The job is his, and Spencer plans to make the most of it.
"I'll have a number I'm reaching for," Spencer said of his sack goal. "I don't know what it is yet, but double digits at least."
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