Wexell: Spencer the early favorite
By Jim Wexell
Posted Mar 5, 2007
Isn’t that typical? You buy someone’s pitch and he gives you, for your 15th pick, a guy who’s ranked No. 26 by FoxSports.com. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.
But you’ll have to trust me on this one because Anthony Spencer is a perfect fit for the Pittsburgh Steelers. That’s what a scout told me at the combine.
“He’s their kind of guy,” said Tom Marino. “He’s got their kind of mentality and he’s a Dick LeBeau type of guy. He’s a perfect fit in their system.”
Marino allows that No. 15 is a bit high for Spencer, but we all know what Kevin Colbert can do with a phone in his hand.
Last year, Colbert traded the last picks of the third and fourth rounds to the New York Giants to move up seven spots to draft Santonio Holmes. This year, the Giants are picking 20th and they need a running back.
Wouldn’t it make sense for the Steelers to trade back five spots so the Giants could move up and draft Marshawn Lynch?
Perhaps the Steelers wouldn’t get a third and a fourth, but a third and a sixth would pay for a punter, WR Steve Smith and Spencer. It makes a lot of sense.
But why Spencer? He’s not even 6-foot-3 (6-2, 7/8) and weighs 261 pounds. He only ran a 4.73 40 (John Murphy of Yahoo.com reported 4.68) and was only decent, if unspectacular, in the vertical jump (32½), short shuttle (4.43) and 3-cone (7.14) drills. Spencer did knock out 30 reps, but those numbers don’t mean much to the Steelers, who prefer game tape.
“He’s really just maturing into his body right now.” offered Marino. “He’s a power guy, a powerful, explosive guy.”
It shows on tape.
“Without question he has a lot of speed and power,” said Penn State left tackle Levi Brown. “He’s the best defensive end in this draft. You all should draft him.”
That’s what Brown told a room full of reporters at the combine, and he should know. He was Spencer’s workout partner all week at the Senior Bowl.
Too bad no one asked Tony Ugoh what he thought of Spencer. Ugoh was the South’s left tackle in the game and Spencer abused him. On one memorable play, Spencer came within inches of sacking the quarterback as Ugoh blatantly held him. The quarterback flipped the ball to Kenny Irons, who ran right. Spencer kept rolling and put a hit on Irons near the opposite sideline. It was a demonstration of a relentless motor, and a sign Spencer had matured as a football player.
“Prior to this year they say he was not a full-time guy,” Marino said. “He wouldn’t chase backside. But this year, somebody got to him.”
That somebody, according to Spencer, was his kid brother Adrian.
“He was 16 then and he was getting on my case about why we’re not making this play, why we’re not doing this,” Spencer explained. “So I went back and watched a lot of film on my previous years and a lot of coaches were telling me the same thing, so I took that to heart and basically changed my whole mentality through spring ball and summer and winter conditioning. It helped out a lot.”
Spencer led the nation last season in tackles for loss with 26.5 and was third with 10.5 sacks. He was the target of every team’s protection, too, since Purdue’s young defense was one of the worst in the country.
Spencer also forced 11 fumbles in his career, one shy of the Purdue record.
“I think I got three on quarterbacks and a couple on running backs,” he said of his senior season. “It’s a matter of just being aware of the ball and when the time's right to strip it. It’s a big part of how we’re coached at Purdue.”
Joe Tiller’s known for his passing attacks at Purdue, but he’s also developed quite a few pass-rushers. In the last eight years, six Purdue defensive ends were drafted, all in the fifth round or higher, and all six remain on NFL rosters. The most productive of the bunch, Shaun Phillips, had 11.5 sacks last season for the San Diego Chargers. He was a fourth-round pick. The last Purdue player chosen in the first round was Rod Woodson, who, like Spencer, hails from Fort Wayne, Indiana.
That’s a lot of mojo with which to match Spencer and the Steelers, who need a tweener to groom as Joey Porter’s replacement at right outside linebacker. Spencer said the Steelers talked to him about playing the position.
“They seemed pretty interested because they do have an older linebacking corps,” he said. It may not have been the smartest thing to say about potential teammates, but Spencer is known as a young man (just turned 23) with strong character. The Purdue team captain was up for the Lott Trophy, an award that honors college football’s Defensive Impact Player of the Year. It gives equal weight to personal character as well as athletic performance. The award is named after Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott and was won by Daymeion Hughes.
“I was very grateful to be on the list,” Spencer said. “I’m a pretty happy-go-lucky guy. I have a pretty positive attitude most of the time. I treat people right I guess. I don’t have any real enemies out there. I think I’m a pretty good guy.”
But what is up with the haircut?
“It started off as a little D-line thing,” he said with a big smile. “I ended up liking it. I kept it and started growing it out about three weeks ago. It’s a fro-hawk. That’s what everyone’s been calling it.”
Spencer will have one more chance to impress scouts before the draft. Purdue’s pro day is Friday.