IRVING, Texas (AP) -Marcus Spears went home this summer and back to a proven method for getting ready for the season. The Cowboys defensive end ran up and down levees under the Louisiana sun.
The former first-round pick came back trimmer, quicker and ready to prove himself in a restructured 3-4 scheme similar to the one he mastered in college.
``It's a fun thing for me because for the first time I think that this is the type of football that I play,'' Spears said. ``To go in and be able to do some things that you're good at, and hopefully make some plays out of it.''
Spears had 83 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks in his first two seasons, when his role in former coach Bill Parcells' system was often to ``hold offensive linemen up.''
New coach Wade Phillips' version of the 3-4 is similar to what Spears played when he won a national championship at LSU. He will have more flexibility to get after quarterbacks and ball carriers.
``He really, really wants to have an opportunity to show people what he can do,'' defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers said. ``He's excited because he thinks it plays to his strength, which is good. ... This scheme frees up (defensive ends) and turns them loose.''
During drills Tuesday, the offense had to pause briefly at the line of scrimmage. The defenders hadn't broken their huddle yet because they were still doing chants led by Spears.
Beside running up and down the hills in Baton Rouge, Spears also changed his diet, meaning he had to avoid much of the Cajun food he loves so much. He lost 24 pounds - down to 301 - and wants to drop at least six more pounds before the season opener Sept. 9.
``In order to do what we're doing in this scheme, you need to,'' Spears said. ``If you are slow and sluggish, this ain't going to work for you, not the way this is going. It's a lot of running.''
Spears had only one assisted tackle in the preseason opener, but played only about a quarter in the 23-10 victory over Indianapolis. Phillips said the starters will play at least a half, maybe more, against Denver on Saturday night.
The 20th pick in the 2005 draft, Spears was taken nine spots behind teammate DeMarcus Ware, who switched from defensive end to linebacker and has started all 32 games with the Cowboys. Ware was a Pro Bowl starter last season, when he had 82 tackles and 11 1/2 sacks.
Spears, slowed by injuries in his first two training camps, knows people are now looking at him to see what he can do in the redone defense.
``It's not what I think. That's the obvious thing,'' Spears said. ``You pull a guy kind of out of his element, then you see him go back to his element a different guy. ... With what we're doing, I think I can make plays, a lot of plays.''
During his rookie camp, Spears sprained his right knee and ankle when an offensive lineman rolled up on his leg during a team drill. He still played in all 16 games, but didn't become a starter until the seventh game.
He tore cartilage in the same knee in the first workout of training camp last year, but still started every game after arthroscopic surgery.
This time, he's healthy and excited.
``You can just see there's a lot more opportunity,'' Spears said. ``The scheme is really to create plays for people, and that's all you can ask for as a player. Now we've just got to go and do it.''

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