The raft of disappointments was overcrowded for the Cowboys last season, but one of the most prominent passengers was Anthony Spencer.
After two disappointing seasons following his selection in the first round of the 2007 draft, Spencer finally seemed to put it all together in 2009. He rushed the passer well, played the run capably and gave the Cowboys the balance they were looking for opposite DeMarcus Ware. Everyone expected more of the same in 2010, but they got a relapse to the player we saw in his first two seasons.
Explanations abounded for Spencer's backslide, but the linebacker made it pretty clear just what went wrong for him during an interview with Dan Graziano of ESPN.com. It wasn't a matter of execution or a matter of teams doing a better job of gameplanning against him, it was a matter of effort.
"You can't mail days in in this league," Spencer said. "And I definitely found I was doing that last year."
Just as an aside: If the U.S. Postal Service does go the way of the Pony Express, as their financial standing suggests, are we going to have to come up with a new phrase to replace "mailing it in"? You could go with something based off of e-mail, but it doesn't have quite the same ring to it. Perhaps that will be enough for the men in blue to get the money they need.
Back to Spencer. The honesty is much appreciated -- Wade Phillips might have a different response -- and it could probably be extended to several of Spencer's teammates. There were times last year when the Cowboys were nothing more than a bunch of empty uniforms and that goes a long way toward explaining their woeful record.
Things definitely seem different with Jason Garrett in charge of the team. Fewer things are being handed to players who haven't earned them and the sense of entitlement that swirled around the team in the Phillips era has disappeared
But the change still needs to come from players like Spencer and simply saying that things are going to be different doesn't make it so. Spencer's track record leans a lot more toward the negative than the positive. Rob Ryan's defense will put him in a position to succeed, but Spencer still needs to make his newfound love of effort translate into production on the field.
If he doesn't, it is hard to see the Cowboys waiting much longer for the light to go on.
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