Spencer for Hire

With a rather efficient and semi-effective preseason in the books, it's now time for the Cowboys organization to evaluate everything they've seen since the Wade Phillips' regime rolled into town.

Currently, there are many interesting developments afoot. Literally. If not the foot, it involves an ailment somewhere on the leg. Whether it is the knee of Terry Glenn, the heel of Terence Newman or the ankle/heel of Greg Ellis, the Cowboys have injury concerns.

Regarding Ellis, neither the injury nor the uncertainty of return is news; however the impact of both is a mounting issue on a daily basis. With Ellis' return hanging in the balance, all should know there's a football version of the patented Evelyn Wood speed reading course going on at Valley Ranch. While maybe not completely reading, it should definitely be tabbed a speed learning course. The actual size of the class is unknown, as it may contain multiple students, but the attendance of one particular sponge is of the utmost importance.

Anthony Spencer, may that Big Ten, West Lafayette, IN, education serve you well. You're going to need every once of deduction capabilities and retention capacity.

Following what many (present company excluded) tabbed "Camp Cupcake," fans and scribes alike are trying to determine the Cowboys' Mr. Irreplaceable/Indispensable. Everyone is looking for that one player who absolutely holds the key to success or failure for the 2007 season. Multiple names have surfaced and been debated endlessly. If a majority rules, then Tony Romo receives top billing. It's hard to argue with that selection as the importance of a NFL quarterback is almost unmatched. Dangerously, let's assume the success of Tony Romo for the upcoming season.

It would also be a huge mistake not to place great importance and concern on Terence Newman, but the crosshairs are being placed squarely on first round draft choice, Anthony Spencer. Being a rookie in the NFL is difficult. Extremely difficult. When you're a first round draft pick, you have added expectations and responsibilities. Add the fact he may be looked to as a day one starter, and now the pressure becomes borderline unbearable. Can Anthony Spencer handle it? There are a great many (present company included) hoping it never comes to fruition, but should it, Wade Phillips and Brian Stewart, like it or not, will become Spencer's closest associates.

Phillips was hired to take this team to the next level, and in order for that to happen, his vaunted 3-4 defensive scheme must shine and produce results. The next level equates to a playoff victory and a squad capable of competing for the world championship. The Cowboys' defense must sustain energy, produce on a consistent basis and generate pocket pressure. All personnel will be responsible for these needs, but the bulk of the pressure responsibilities will fall on the shoulder pads of DeMarcus Ware and the complimentary outside linebacker. These two positions carry great enormity in the Phillips/Stewart scheme, and whether the complimentary player is Ellis, Spencer or Bobby Carpenter, the task at hand is huge.

Can a rookie carry that responsibility and hold up to the accompanying scrutiny?

It's the $64K question, and the Cowboys may be asked to provide the answer. Whether getting the call as a starter or not, this rookie is being asked to do the very same thing imposed on DeMarcus Ware in his rookie season. In the minute window of a couple of months, Spencer is entrusted with converting himself from a hand-on-the ground, rush defensive end on the collegiate level, to a stand up, NFL outside linebacker. The layman will ask, "What's the big deal?" If right-handed, put the pen in the left hand and give it a try. Likewise, lefties put the ballpoint in the right hand and give it a whirl.

Piece of cake, eh? Now you clearly understand the magnitude of the learning curve and the steep grade of the adjustment period. Throw in the fact he is more comfortable playing from the right side of the defense, but he'll be required to flip flop as DeMarcus Ware follows the weak side of the offense with each break of the huddle. The difficulty comes in asking Spencer to jump on the accelerated learning plan and forcing him to press in preparation for the opener against the Giants.

Certainly, he has the chance to pull it off, but this doesn't bode well for Wade Phillips and Brian Stewart. By choice, they would prefer to bring Spencer along slowly and ease him into the mix. Make no mistake in preference. The Cowboys want Greg Ellis healthy and available for the opening bell. They want the duties in capable veteran hands. Notice the word "proven" was omitted due to Ellis' tenure as an OLB. It's only been 9 games into his transition, but he picked up the assignment quickly, and prior to his injury departure last year, he was effective.

The Cowboys need Greg Ellis! See past the off-season and training camp "carping," because whether it's unhappiness with the current contract or fear of recovery gone awry, the Dallas Cowboys are a better team and adequately positioned if Ellis is deemed a "go" for the opener. As each day passes, the possibility of Ellis' availability becomes more distant. The Phillips' regime is embarking on its biggest decision to date.

It's a decision Wade Phillips hoped not to make, but that's why Jerry pays him the big bucks. The Phillips hire was multi-faceted, but make no mistake, the main priority was putting this defense amongst the NFL elite. The difference between Greg Ellis and Anthony Spencer is Continental Divide wide. It's certainly disparate enough to distinguish elite from pedestrian. It's comforting to know Phillips, Stewart, Paul Pasqualoni and Dat Nguyen are the instructing professors, and their roles as coaches and teachers will be tested right out of the chute. The "kid" has to be ready to play, and not only play, but play with fervor and effectiveness. If opposing offenses are able to neutralize DeMarcus Ware, look for much of the same in 2007 as was witnessed in 2006.

Cowboys' faithful that does not appeal whatsoever.

Pressure is paramount, and the entire Phillips' scheme is predicated on it. The rookie challenges facing Anthony Spencer were noted above, and if he is tabbed opening day starter, you can add coach's reputation, initial impression and post season potential to Spencer's responsibility portfolio. Do you think that's enough burdens for a 23-year-old to carry? If the Cowboys can mount half the pressure Spencer would be asked to shoulder, they actually might get to the quarterback a time or two.

Welcome to Dallas Anthony Spencer…..young man, are you ready for some football?

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