Cowboys' linebacker Anthony Spencer emerged as a Pro Bowl-caliber pass rusher in the latter half of last season, much to the relief of the team who, a season before, had gone out on a limb somewhat in cutting Greg Ellis.
Beginning in week 12, a Thanksgiving Day game against Oakland--fittingly enough, Ellis's new team--Spencer went off.
The Purdue-product tallied two sacks (his first of the year) against Oakland and finished with eight, including one in each of the team's two playoff games. He added two forced fumbles, ten stuffs and an interception, for good measure. Suffice it so say, the expectations for Spencer in 2010 will be fairly lofty.
"[Spencer] was a force in the second half of the year," said head coach Wade Phillips, per ESPNDallas.com. "He was one of the best players we had, and we have a lot of good players. We expect him to keep going."
The difference in Spencer from the beginning of the season to the end, according to fellow outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware--and Spencer himself--comes down to a sense of confidence within the defense.
Spencer acknowledged during his much-talked-about sack-drought last season that he was still attempting to grow fully comfortable as a starter. By week 17, a 24-0 win over Philadelphia in which Spencer had two sacks and a forced fumble, it was clear that he had hit his stride as an NFL starter.
"I see a lot of confidence in Spencer,” said Ware. “When he first started, he had to get into it a little bit, but now, he’s that guy."