The next big thing in Dallas

The Dallas Cowboys' biggest stars are among the most well-known and popular players in the National Football League. Linebacker DeMarcus Ware, tight end Jason Witten, quarterback Tony Romo, cornerback Terence Newman, nose tackle Jay Ratliff … they're all household names.

But ask around the Dallas locker room about who is next to join the ranks of the Cowboy luminaries, and one of the first names that comes up always seems to be that of outside linebacker Anthony Spencer.

Playing across from Ware, who is arguably the premier defensive player in all of football, it's understandable if some always view Spencer as the Cowboys' "other" outside linebacker. But while Ware is at the very pinnacle of the players at his position, it's not like Spencer is a JV player who backed into a roster spot on the varsity team. In 2009, Spencer had his best year, collecting 67 tackles — three shy of matching his total from his first two seasons as a professional — and six quarterback sacks; he had 4.5 sacks in his first two seasons combined.

"I have a lot of expectations for myself coming into this season just because of the way I ended the season last year," Spencer said, "and the confidence I gained during that end of the season."

Spencer, who has lost about 10 pounds since last season in an effort to improve his quickness, said the Cowboys' defense could be even better this year, especially if they can improve upon last year's takeaway total. During the regular season, Dallas picked off just 11 passes, ranking in a tie for 26th in the league.

"Turnovers in the game, that changes the whole entire game," Spencer said. "So if we get turnovers, that's going to be huge for us."

Spencer's reputation grew last year, with the media and around the league, but he said he didn't pay attention to the increased talk about his development as a player.

"I count on myself to do a lot," he said. "I don't watch all the TV stuff, and all that, so I really don't hear too much of it. I hear it from my family more than anything."

Despite his growing fame — not to mention the speculation that he soon could be a regular in the Pro Bowl — Spencer seems to have remained humble and genuine. When asked about his development, he cited the players who have helped him learn since he got into the NFL.

"It's been so many: D-Ware (Ware), Greg Ellis, Bradie James — all the linebackers I've had in the room with me from the beginning have been helping me out since the jump," he said. "I sit next to Bradie every day and in meetings I've always got questions, and we're running things back and forth with each other.

"We've got a pretty good feel for each other. Our whole defense has a pretty good feel for each other. We've been around each other for a while and we're getting real comfortable with each other."

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