Dallas' Dynamic Duo has LSU roots

Batman and Robin might be the original Dynamic Duo but in Dallas, they have a formidable combination of their own with a pair of ex-LSU stars in fifth-year linebacker Bradie James and third-year end Marcus Spears.

James was a fourth-round pick in 2003 while Spears went in the first round in 2005 (20th overall). They were teammates at LSU for two seasons but it was before Spears even got to campus that he and James developed a close friendship, something that continues today. Both are key components of a Dallas defense that many see having the potential to be one of the top units in the NFL. Tiger Rag recently caught up with them after practice at Valley Ranch and here's what they had to say.

 

James was at LSU between 1999 and 2002 and was a two-time All-SEC performer. He finished his career with 418 tackles, the second-most stops in school history, and was part of the 2001 team that went 10-3 and won the SEC championship and the Sugar Bowl.

 

"It was definitely one of the greatest experiences of my life," James said about his experience at LSU. "From an academic standpoint to the athletic experience, it definitely helped make me into the man that I am today. I went there as a teenager and came out of there a young man. It taught me how to be an all-around guy. I was heavily recruited but being in-state and wanted to stay close to my family. The state is all about LSU, so it became a no-brainer after I visited about two schools."

 

The teams that James was on helped lay the foundation for the national championships that followed just after his departure to the NFL and that's something Bradie takes pride in.

 

"When we first got there, we were one of the more highly-touted classes," he said. "We had guys like Domanick Davis and LaBrandon Toefield. The talent level was average but when we got there, we tried to take it to another level. We wanted to make our program nationally-recognized. Now that I've gone back there, I see that they're talented across the board. They're far more talented than we ever were and their second team could beat somebody's first team. We had to play some games and lose some. But the foundation was set. Everything we were able to develop helps the guys that are there now."

 

Spears originally came to LSU as a tight end and earned Freshman All-SEC honors at that spot before shifting to defense full-time as a sophomore. As a junior, he earned First-Team All-SEC honors for an LSU team that won a national championship with a 21-14 win over Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, a game in which Marcus returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown, a score that proved to be the final margin of victory. Spears' senior year saw him earn First-Team All-America honors and contend for several national awards. So, it's no surprise that he looks back on that time with nothing but fondness.

 

"It was a great four years," Spears said. "I had a great ride there and we won a lot of games. I was at home, so that made it much easier for me to do things. I knew where I was, so nothing was surprising. LSU was great, that was family."

 

Spears admits that until his final year of high school, LSU wasn't even on his radar, but that quickly changed. "I didn't even have LSU on my mind until my senior year of high school," he admitted. "I was thinking about schools like Florida State, Miami and places like that. Most guys from Louisiana were going to those schools at that time because LSU just didn't have a strong program. But, when we decided to go, things turned around and we got that thing rolling. Now it's probably going to be a good place to go to for a long time."

 

It was then that James, who at the time was a sophomore at LSU, met Spears, a senior at University Lab High School in Baton Rouge, for the first time and a close relationship quickly developed.

 

"When I was a sophomore, they were talking about him and we went to check him out and (Marcus) Spears was back there returning kicks, running the ball and playing tight end," James recalled. "The first play that I saw him, he took a punt to the house and our relationship started from that. I was telling him about LSU and it was basically a no-brainer for him. I was the oldest guy and everybody looked to me for leadership. I took him under my wing. He was actually like my little brother and he and I went so many different places. Our relationship is as strong as ever and I still view him as one of my brothers."

 

Spears agrees that the relationship between he and James has more of a brotherly vibe than anything. "It's a good thing because Bradie and I have developed an older brother/younger brother relationship from when he was at LSU," he said.

 

"For me to be able to play with him again and to see him assume a leadership role with this team, it's an amazing, awesome experience. It does a lot for me because I get to see him thrive in a new place and I have an opportunity to do some good things here too.

 

When I came to LSU, I was a young boy who was wet behind the ears and now, we're both men. We communicate a little differently now but there is definitely respect between us two."

 

But like most LSU fans, they aren't short of opinions on former Tiger head coach Nick Saban, whom both of them played under, now coaching at Alabama.

 

"I haven't seen him coach for Alabama yet but I know he's over there," Spears said. "Me being in the league, I know how much of a business decision it was for him to go there. Anytime you have a chance to do something to provide for your family, it's almost like a no-brainer. There's loyalty to a certain point in football. He had an opportunity to coach at Alabama and didn't want to coach the Dolphins any more. So, things worked out well for him. If somebody gives you $40 million to coach college football and that's what you love to do, it's hard to turn that money down."

 

James' chalks up Saban now coaching an SEC West rival to nothing more than a business decision on his former coach's part.

 

"The attrition rate is high in our business and I understand that coaches have to move around," he said. "It will be a little awkward just to see him over there in those Crimson colors but that's just how it goes."

 

After their senior seasons, both James and Spears ventured up to Indianapolis and to the NFL's Scouting Combine. Both of these ex-Tigers have no shortage of opinions on the validity of that glorified meat market.

 

"I think it's better for the NFL to come see you at the school," Spears said. "It's better for them to see you work out in that environment. The Combine is a place to get all the guys together so that teams can see them side-by-side. They really do break you down. They analyze your body type, what you've done on the college football field, how you look, if you're fast, if you're slow, if you can lift a lot of weight and things like that. I think it's something for them to get together, see everyone in one setting and to compare guys."

 

Once again, James' thoughts on the subject echoed those of his close friend and teammate.

 

"I did not like it (the combine) at all but that was just me," he said. "It (getting drafted by the Cowboys) was a shocker. I thought I had slipped in the draft but in the end, everything worked out. I'm here in Dallas and am happy with how everything worked out."

 

As for draft day, unlike James, Spears had a pretty good idea that he would be wearing a star on his helmet after all was said and done.

 

"From day one, the Cowboys were interested," he recalled. "I got a chance to see Bill (Parcells) and Jerry (Jones) at the Senior Bowl after my senior year and they gave me some hints that they were interested. They couldn't really tell me anything. They wanted me to come up for a visit. I figured they were interested because that's really the only way you can tell."

 

Spears admits that his transition to the NFL wasn't a rough one and that things got much easier on him this year when the Cowboys hired defensive-minded Wade Phillips as their head coach and he employs a scheme similar to what Marcus played at LSU.

 

"The learning curve wasn't bad (when I first came to the pros)," Spears said. "I was used to moving, getting around and using my athleticism to make plays at LSU. But when I got here, it was more about technique, two-gap responsibility and things like that. Now, I'm back to moving, doing what I was doing at LSU and it feels good."

 

This year marks James' fifth in Big D but the magnitude of playing for the most visible football team in sports didn't really sink in until earlier this year.

 

"I didn't realize it until we had training camp this year in San Antonio," James admitted. "I kind of knew about it before then but I didn't realize how much attention we got until then. That's when it really hit me. We had so many fans there and the atmosphere was so electric. I had noticed but it just didn't hit me until now. It's a great opportunity and playing on Sundays with all the exposure is definitely a good situation to be in."

 

The savvy veteran knows that this year's Dallas defense has a chance to be one of the best in the league but that doesn't mean they still don't have to show up every week.

 

"You have to play games because everybody looks good on paper," James said. "We're still learning how to play this scheme and once we get more comfortable in it, we'll do well. It's all about how well guys gel together, understand one another and who's going to be where. I think we can definitely be better than we were last year."

 

Currently, the Cowboy locker room features a number of other fellow SEC products. Arkansas, Auburn and Georgia have one player each while LSU and Tennessee each have two players on the Dallas roster. But it doesn't matter which fellow conference team they are playing, James and Spears are always touting LSU and that means making side bets with their teammates.

 

"We always bet with our heart," he admitted. "We have Tennessee guys, a guy from Auburn and one from Arkansas. We bleed Purple and Gold. No matter what, we will always support those guys. There's always a lot of talking but when our schools play each other, it's fun but Marcus and I usually collect. We bet anything from plasma TVs to dinner for the next three weeks or something like that. We're not on scholarship anymore. Life in the NFL is good."

 

Every time the Dallas Cowboy defense hits the field, LSU is well-represented in starting linebacker Bradie James and starting end Marcus Spears. They are key cogs in what could be one of the NFL's top defenses by the time this season is through. No matter where they're playing, both still bleed Purple and Gold and continue to exhibit the commitment to excellence that both learned in Baton Rouge.


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