IRVING (AP) — Anthony Spencer is economical with his words, responding politely to sometimes repeated questions with short, concise answers.
Still, the Dallas Cowboys’ first-round pick doesn’t have to say much to make it clear that he’s confident about being a starting linebacker even though he last played the position as a sophomore in high school.
“Yeah, I feel comfortable with it,” Spencer said Monday.
With growing uncertainty about when or even if 10-year veteran Greg Ellis will return from a torn left Achilles’ tendon, it seems ever more likely that Spencer will be a rookie starter when the Cowboys play their season opener Sept. 9 at home against the New York Giants.
“I feel like they’re counting on me right now,” Spencer said. “So I don’t think it will change from the season to right now.”
Like former first-round pick and Pro Bowl linebacker DeMarcus Ware did two years ago, Spencer is making the transition from college end in the Cowboys’ 3-4 defense.
Ellis, also a former first-round pick and now the longest-tenured Cowboy, made the switch last season when former coach Bill Parcells moved him from end to outside linebacker so he’d be a better fit in the scheme. Ellis had a team-high 4 1/2 sacks when he got hurt in the ninth game.
Playing the first half in the Cowboys’ 23-10 preseason-opening victory over Indianapolis, Spencer got credited with only one assisted tackle. But the Colts also didn’t really run Spencer’s way or throw to secondary receivers that he had to cover.
Spencer said he felt comfortable and didn’t have any mental mistakes. His goal is to continue working on his footwork, the biggest adjustment when having to drop into pass coverage.
Teammates already get a sense of what Spencer can do when blitzing.
“I think he’s going to turn out to be a great pass rusher,” defensive end Marcus Spears said.
“We see out here at practice, we know he can get to the passer,” cornerback Aaron Glenn said. “To be an overall true linebacker, time will tell on that. I’m sure he has the ability to do it, but to be able to go out there and do it is a whole different story.”
Spencer had 10 1/2 sacks his senior season at Purdue, often bull-rushing around ends or tackles to get to the quarterback. There were times earlier in his college career that he was forced to drop back in coverage because of zone blitzing — but not last season.
The last time he was truly a linebacker was for “like five games” in high school: “It was easier then, run sideline to sideline.”
Ware has 19 1/2 sacks and 16 tackles for losses in his 32 games with the Cowboys. He had eight sacks as a rookie and 11 1/2 last season — three of them in the regular season finale.