The Dallas Cowboys (2-1) haven’t seen much of Anthony Spencer since he had his knee scoped on July 25th. In fact, the defensive end has only practiced 5 times and appeared in 1 game since that time. And now it seems doubtful they’ll see him contribute at all this year. This morning on 105.3 The Fan, owner and General Manager Jerry Jones said the defensive end may need season ending knee surgery. Needless to say, things haven’t played out the way Spencer had hoped they would. Following a career best year where he recorded 11 sacks, led the defense in tackles and made his first Pro Bowl, the former 3-4 linebacker had hoped to sign a long term deal to stay in Dallas, or to at least be allowed to test the market in free agency. After all, he was coming off of a franchise tagged year.
That hope wasn’t granted, however. Dallas, notorious for rewarding big contracts to players after a breakout season, wisely restrained themselves from negations and opted to wait one more season before fully committing to their 29 year old Pro Bowler. You can’t really blame them. Players do tend to be at their best when in a contract year, as Spencer was last year. Still, the former Purdue linebacker has been pretty solid and greatly under appreciated throughout his career. Since his rookie year in 2007, Spencer has tallied 260 total tackles, 32.5 sacks and 12 forced fumbles in over 90 regular season appearances for this franchise. Those are certainly productive numbers but the bulk of them were tallied last season. Because of this, the team elected to franchise Spencer for a second consecutive season and pay roughly $11 million while they continued to evaluate him and his future with the organization.
Following his season debut against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2, Spencer said his knee was still bothering him, though he didn’t think much of it at the time. But by the time Friday morning had rolled around, the knee still wasn’t responding to treatment and the team was forced to add Spencer to the inactive list for their game against the St. Louis Rams. Now, it seems Spencer will require microfracture surgery and miss most of, if not all, of this still young season.
With Spencer likely done for the year, the team will have to move on and evaluate its depth in the coming weeks. The silver lining for Dallas is that the team currently ranks second in the NFL in sacks through the first three weeks with 13 total. Even without their Pro Bowl defensive end, the team has been able to pressure quarterbacks and create big plays. DeMarcus Ware, the face of this defense the past several seasons, currently leads the team with 4 sacks and recently became the Cowboys All-Time Leader in that category with 115. And even though Jay Ratliff has yet to practice, fill-in, Jason Hatcher has been solid, recording a sack in each of the first 3 games. Meanwhile, Spencer’s replacement, George Selvie, hasn’t been a stranger to opposing quarterbacks either, collecting 2 sacks of his own and living in the backfield. As long as the team can keep pressure on the quarterback and find production from the lesser knowns of their roster, Dallas can still compete for a division title.
In the immediate fallout of the Spencer announcement, the team has officially signed former Colts defensive tackle, Drake Nevis, a 6’1, 297 lbs standout from LSU. Nevis has played in only 14 games but started 3 times in 2012 before injury sidelined him for the year. The club continues to churn the bottom of the roster for depth, and Nevis, an oft-injured third year pro, is a perfect example of that.
As the team prepares for its road game against the San Diego Chargers, expect defensive coaches Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli to make a number of adjustments to cope with the loss of Spencer. And while it’s true that the defense has already played in 2 games without Spencer, different adjustments will have to be made now. Game planning for a short term absence is one thing, but with one of the biggest key players out for the year, the team will likely have to make at least some changes to the scheme and play calling.
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