When the New Orleans Saints announced last month that they had signed Anthony Spencer to a one-year deal there was one question that popped in my mind:
What role does defensive coordinator Rob Ryan have in mind for him on defense?
And I guess by role, I mean position more than anything since Spencer can be classified as an outside linebacker or defensive end.
The Saints official website welcomed Spencer calling him a linebacker…
…and NFL.com referred to him as a defensive end.
So what will it be for the once rising star on defense that is looking to kickstart his career again?
Well to be honest, seeing as how the market for Spencer was practically nonexistent…pretty much whatever he’s asked to do by Ryan and the rest of the defensive staff.
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While at Purdue University he was used as a defensive lineman and his 2006 senior season, where he had 93 tackles, 10.5 sacks, and 5 forced fumbles, gained the attention of the Dallas Cowboys.
In the 2007 NFL Draft the Cowboys traded that years second, third, and fifth round picks to trade back up into the first round to select Spencer with the 26th pick.
Jan 4, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive end Anthony Spencer (93) pressures Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) during the fourth quarter in the NFC Wild Card Playoff Game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Spencer was transitioned from the defensive line to left outside linebacker where he stayed until Monte Kiffin became the defensive coordinator in 2013.
With Kiffin’s 4-3 alignment, Spencer was converted to a defensive end, although his time there would be brief due to season ending microfracture surgery on his knee that same year.
His time spent there in 2014 wasn’t too much better and he was only brought in for close to half the snaps on defense.
I checked the numbers at Pro Football Focus when Spencer became a full-time starter in 2009 until the end of 2012 when he was an left outside linebacker and the stats speak for themselves:
- 2009(including postseason)–67 solo tackles, 9 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 29 QB hits, 27 QB hurries
- 2010–53 solo tackles, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 4 QB hits, 29 QB hurries
- 2011–53 solo tackles, 6 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 9 QB hits, 35 QB hurries
- 2012–64 solo tackles, 11 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 QB hits, 27 QB hurries
With 2013 being a wash due to injury, Spencer’s time at left defensive end in 2014 might have well been the same.
Jan 4, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive end Anthony Spencer (93) rushes the passer against Detroit Lions tackle Cornelius Lucas (77) in the NFC Wild Card Playoff Game at AT&T Stadium. Dallas beat Detroit 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
- 2014(including postseason)–14 solo tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 7 QB hits, 18 QB hurries
On a head scratching note of sorts, half of Spencer’s sacks and QB hurries came during the Cowboys playoff appearances where he registered zero tackles.
Granted, as mentioned before his playing time was chopped in half in 2014 at 457 snaps that season, where from 2009-2012 he averaged 974.75 snaps per season.
So to answer the question of what role Spencer could be filling this upcoming season I think the Saints already tipped us off and it will be at outside linebacker.
Well actually even if they didn’t say it Spencer, at 6’3″ and 265 lbs., is the most logical fit for that position.
Spencer has done well against the run at outside linebacker with PFF averaging him with a +10.5 Run Defense grade from 2009-2012.
And let’s be honest, playing against the run was horrible for the Saints with PFF grading them at -29.9 for the 2014 season.
Along the same four years, Spencer also graded out at an average of +10.2 in Pass Rush with the Saints having a -8.3 in that area for 2014.
However, he’ll be facing a challenge for that “Jack” / outside edge OLB spot from rookie sensation Hau’oli Kikaha, and the incumbent Junior Galette.
Linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha at New Orleans Saints rookie minicamp. Photo by Michael C. Hebert. New Orleans Saints Photos.
Perhaps he could also serve in a “hybrid” role, as either the standup edge rusher or at his natural position of DE, as a back-up to Cam Jordan. That’s assuming of course, that he even makes the final cut in September.
Of course, regardless of where he lines up, the one role that Spencer can bring to the Saints is what they lacked last year which is leadership and perseverance.
Just as the Saints defense has recently experienced, Spencer has been from the top of the mountain to the bottom of the heap.
He’s seen his big dreams of a huge payday in free agency just a few years ago, become a one-year “prove it” deal from his old defensive coordinator.
At 31 years old, Spencer has likely has been asked to fill a role not only of defense, but as a teacher of overcoming adversity as well.
A lesson that the Saints as a whole need for 2015……