Sudden impact: Sacks are making Cowboys' Spencer more visible on the field

IRVING -- For years, the Dallas Cowboys have said it's not about sacks with Anthony Spencer.

It's about what you don't see -- stopping the run, setting the edge, covering in space.

But now the sacks are becoming visible.

The veteran outside linebacker tracked down Robert Griffin III twice last week. He got to Brandon Weeden the game before. And three weeks ago in Philadelphia, he shared a sack with DeMarcus Ware at the goal line, forcing a fumble that wound up as a touchdown.

It put him at 6.5 sacks this season, exceeding his career high of 6.0, with five games to go. He's also third on the team in tackles, second in quarterback pressures, second in tackles for loss and second in forced fumbles.

"I think the perception is because he doesn't have 14, 15 sacks a year that he's not important," defensive end Marcus Spears said. "But you take him away from this defense, and you're not going to have another guy that plays like that at that position. Really, it's nothing new for us. He has more sacks, so you guys are going to write more stories."

Well, it's worth a story right now.

Spencer signed a franchise-tag deal in the spring when he and the team couldn't agree on a new deal. It surprised fans that the Cowboys would agree to pay Spencer the average of the top five-paid players at his position, considering the former first-round pick had only 21.5 sacks in five years.

But the Cowboys, who saw Spencer deliver 105 tackles two seasons ago, were seeing what fans don't see -- Spencer's hidden value.

"He's really good on run fits, good at holding an edge -- that allows middle backers to make the tackle, or someone else to make the tackle, that he's not getting credit for," backup Alex Albright said. "He's really worked hard on his pass coverage, and you don't see it when you're watching at home, but he's covering a guy that was the first option, now the quarterback has to hold it, and it's a coverage sack. Anthony does a lot of behind-the-scenes work, and he doesn't complain about it. ... He doesn't ask for more of the spotlight. He just wants to win."

That hasn't always been easy to tell with Spencer. Before the start of last season, he told he was "mailing days in" the year before and that he had learned from it. The comment added to his reputation as a mellow player who perhaps wasn't driven, even as he entered a contract year.

Yeah, right, said defensive end Jason Hatcher.

"The way he plays, he's not quiet," Hatcher said. "He talks mess out there on the field. ...His energy, the way he makes plays -- he's quiet around y'all, but when he's in between the lines, he talks smack. He brings the wood."

The Cowboys are tapping into Spencer's chatter. They're putting the radio communication helmet on him now that Bruce Carter has been lost for the season. Spencer will be in charge of taking the call from the sideline and delivering it on the field.

"I think he's emerged into that type of player," Spears said. "He knows what's going on. He's a smart football player, so it's not a difficult thing for him to adjust to. To see him up front in the huddle is a little different, but it's the same guy talking in your ear."

Spencer's contributions have put him in a good position for his next contract. The Cowboys will try to work out a long-term deal, knowing it will be expensive, or they might opt for another one-year franchise deal.

It doesn't matter to Spencer. He doesn't even ask his agent, Jordan Woy, for updates.

"Whenever Jordan asks me about it, I just say I don't want to talk about it until the end of this season," Spencer said. "I'm just going to keep playing. That's the only thing I can do. Even if I'm having a good year and he's telling me, 'They're talking about this,' it's not going to change the way I'm going to play. So I'm just going to go out there and play and don't worry about it. When it comes around, it's going to come around."

Spencer knows he has surpassed his highest sack total. But whether he's happy about that, he said you can ask again after the season. For now, he said it's best for him to stay in the moment.

"You definitely can't get too far ahead of yourself in this game, cause it'll show," he said. "Definitely it'll show."

That's certainly true of the sack numbers.

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407

Twitter: @calexmendez

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