I was reading Mickey's article on DC.com last night about the Cowboys seemingly trying to get younger, or more specifically, trying to avoid getting old, and the one part that sticks in my mind is the stuff about Ellis.
If you've read the blogs over at CowboysNation.net before, then you might very well know that I have mixed feelings over Ellis between his decent to good play over the years, and his inability to shut up about his contract.
But now the Cowboys have told Ellis that he will not be the starter in 2009, and that Anthony Spencer will instead be given the job. Spencer has developed into a bit of a gamble lately, not really because of his off-the-field incident after the season ended, but because he's not yet proven that he can stay healthy long-term.
For the sake of argument, I actually see Ellis as a better player simply because he has experience. His only major injury since the switch from DE to OLB has been the Achilles injury that landed him on IR a couple of years ago, and to my surprise that a lot of people don't know this, it was Bobby Carpenter that filled in for him 90% of the time he was out.
But Anthony Spencer has been as much of a role player as Ellis has been the past two years. Last year, Ellis was the starter by title, yes, but that was mainly because he played the first defensive down of every game. Spencer would then come in on most first and second downs while Ellis played primarily on third downs, in passing situations.
But the real point here isn't whether Ellis or Spencer starts, but that Ellis will not start … that he has been told already, in March mind you, that he will not be the starter. This does two things; 1) it gives Ellis even more reason to continue whining that he might be cut since his cap number is awfully high for a third down player, and 2) it sets the tone for the whole season as far as player management.
Maybe it's a benefit of having your head coach also serve as the defensive coordinator. Not only does Wade know what he wants to do with his defense as the DC, but as the HC he doesn't have to wait around to convince anyone else that it's best, he doesn't have to wait and see how it turns out … he's already got the authority to make the decision early on.
It also goes to show that maybe he is making some of those changes to his nice-guy persona that so many have complained about. He isn't going to let the cards fall where they may and use competition or a challenge scenario as an excuse to start Spencer over Ellis, he's come right out and made it known long before it really matters that Ellis will not be the starter. Somehow the “awe shucks” image just doesn't fit a move like this.
So while Ellis is now seemingly on the chopping block awaiting his impending doom with the franchise, this team has taken a step toward less controversy and more stability. Having it set this early on that your younger player will be the starter has its positives.
For instance, instead of valuable reps in the off-season being wasted on a veteran player who knows the system pretty well, the guy who really needs the extra work will get every last snap that he needs to prove himself.
It's equally beneficial that the club has made it known that they plan on Miles Austin being the number 2 receiver opposite Roy Williams instead of returning Patrick Crayton to the spot now that Owens is gone.
It portrays a picture of a coaching staff that has done their homework, has made choices, and is not only sticking by them, but doing so in a way that leaves no doubt to played upon later as the season nears. It portrays something that many fans refuse to believe, that this coaching staff knows what they are going to do for 2009.
It's a small step, but it's another one in the right direction.