Spencer's Turn

IRVING, Tex. - Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' announcement Tuesday that Greg Ellis likely has played his last game for the team sent reverberations throughout the team and the Cowboys' fan base, and prompted headlines nationwide … but nobody felt the impact more than linebacker Anthony Spencer.

Ellis' removal from the team's Organized Team Activity (OTA) last week and absence from this week's camp meant Spencer had ascended to a spot in the starting lineup. While he said he will miss the man he called a "friend and mentor," Spencer said the move also served as a reminder that he and all of the Cowboys must continue to perform in order to keep their jobs.

"It's like when (Terrell Owens) was gone — you've got to definitely be out here, ready to play every day," Spencer said. "You've got to definitely bring you're ‘A game' — you can't be half-stepping out here at all."

A 2007 first-round draft pick out of Purdue, Spencer said he spent the last two seasons competing with Ellis, but also learning from the 11-year veteran.

"A lot of stuff," Spencer said when asked what he learned from Ellis, "mostly from being a down defensive end to outside linebacker … a lot of footwork, a lot of hand stuff. There's so much different stuff that I learned from Greg. It's hard to say."

Spencer said that in addition to the on-field skills he learned from Ellis, he also appreciated the sense of stability the Dallas defense got from Ellis' wisdom and years in the NFL.

"His experience, his leadership — I mean, he's been here forever," Spencer said, "so you feel like if you have him out there, you definitely have a chance."

Spencer said that now that he has a couple of years of experience — he has 70 tackles and 4.5 sacks in his first two professional seasons — he is ready to show he is ready to be a three-down linebacker as he moves into a starting role, teaming with star linebacker DeMarcus Ware to give the Cowboys bookend pass rushers.

"I'm very confident," he said. "I have utmost confidence in myself all the time, so this is just an opportunity for me to prove it. That's what it is, an opportunity for me to get better and leave my footprints in this game, so that's definitely what I'm trying to do here now.

In addition to his role rushing the passer, Ellis also was the defense's elder statesman, leading his teammates in position meetings and film sessions. That role, obviously, now falls to someone else.

"All the guys that are here, that have got so much experience — Bradie (James), D-Ware — especially in the linebacker room, we've got so many old vets and really good vets, so those guys will go hand-in-hand with what Greg had going on," Spencer said.

He also agreed with Jones' assertion that although Ellis might be done as a Cowboy, his playing days are not yet over.

"Definitely," Spencer said. "I don't see him being done, and I don't see him being done after this year. He can still play."

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