SAN ANTONIO (AP) -For a guy whose job entails being constantly stepped on or crushed in the middle of a mass of other huge bodies, Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Jason Ferguson has quite a boisterous spirit.
Ferguson isn't one of those grumpy defenders who is always in the trenches and goes mostly unnoticed. Not with his hearty laughs and lively chats on and off the field.
``I'm trying to stay upbeat with all the guys and just have fun,'' Ferguson said.
``He's a nose guard type as far as how he plays,'' coach Wade Phillips said. ``His demeanor is a little bit different. He's more of a happy-go-lucky type. ... The most important thing is how they do their job, and he seems to be doing it well.''
The 6-foot-3, 312-pound Ferguson is the most experienced player on the Cowboys defense. Ferguson, who's going into his 11th NFL season, was brought to Dallas two years ago by former coach Bill Parcells to help the team's transition from a 4-3 to 3-4 defense.
While Phillips has a different approach in his use of the three-man front, Ferguson is still a leader and a key component for the Cowboys.
Phillips describes Ferguson, whose 64 tackles last season were the most for a Dallas defensive lineman, as a smart player who can recognize different formations and adjust with different techniques.
``We're able to do a lot of things with him that we wouldn't with some others,'' Phillips said.
Plus, Ferguson has the respect of his teammates, who follow his lead.
``There are so many different ways I could describe Ferg,'' defensive end Chris Canty said. ``Most of all, Ferg lets us know that you kid around when it's time to kid around, but when it's time to come into work, we work. There's a time for work and there is a time for play and he kind of keeps us on that delicate balance.''
Ferguson was one of the ``Parcells guys,'' a former player who reunited with the coach in Dallas. Ferguson spent eight seasons with the New York Jets, who drafted him in the seventh round of the 1997 draft when Parcells was the coach.
With the demanding Parcells retired from coaching, Ferguson gets to play for the also defensive-minded Phillips, who is constantly described as a more laid-back coach.
``This is still camp. I haven't seen that side that everybody keeps telling me about,'' Ferguson said with one of his laughs. ``He's a good dude. Coach Wade is different. He will talk to you as a man and point you in a good direction.''
Since missing the entire 2001 season because of rotator cuff surgery, the 32-year-old Ferguson hasn't missed a game - and has had some of his best seasons. The 64 tackles were the third-highest total in his career.
And he's still having fun.
``That's just the way I am. I just don't try to be too crazy,'' Ferguson said. ``Bill kind of got me on that fine line - you can have fun, but don't be disruptive. That's pretty much how I try to do.''
Ferguson has found the perfect balance - in the middle of the Cowboys defensive line.

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