HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) -Cody Spencer became increasingly anxious while sitting out most of last season for the New York Jets, fighting the negative thoughts that crept into his head.
He could count on occasional long-distance calls from his brother in Iraq to shake him out of the doldrums.
``I always had him in the back of my mind, as far as just when I'd get down and worried about myself, I'd think about what he was doing and what he was going through,'' the backup linebacker said Tuesday. ``He was a little bit of a motivation for me, just to keep going through everything.''
While Spencer was rehabilitating from an undisclosed injury after being placed on the reserve/non-football illness list last October, his older brother, Jeremy, was serving his third tour in Iraq.
``When he enlisted in the military, I never thought he'd be going to war as many times as he did,'' Spencer said. ``I just had to support him and I got to talk to him here and there and I could hear helicopters in the background. It was pretty wild.''
Much to the relief of Spencer and his family, his brother has returned home after retiring from the Army.
``It was tough, but he's back,'' Spencer said. ``He's good, he's healthy and everything's good.''
Spencer can say the same of himself these days. Competing for a roster spot in his third season with the Jets after two with Tennessee, Spencer has been a standout during the preseason. He's tied with Kansas City's Turk McBride with an NFL-leading three sacks, along with 12 tackles.
``Cody has done a great job this preseason,'' coach Eric Mangini said. ``What I've liked about Cody since he's been here is he has really developed as a player. He transitioned from a core (special) teams guy, and was able to work at outside linebacker, then he worked in the sub package. ... He's also worked at inside linebacker, so he's created position flexibility.''
That might be good enough for the former sixth-round pick out of North Texas to stick. With fellow linebacker and friend Brad Kassell going down for the season with an injury, Spencer has seized the opportunity.
d learning everything.''
He had two sacks in the second preseason game against Washington, and another last Saturday against the Giants.
``If it was the real season and I was getting sacks like that, it would be pretty cool, but I would say preseason doesn't really count as much,'' he said.
Spencer played in the season opener last year against New England, but was inactive the next three weeks. By Week 5, his season was over and soon felt like a forgotten man.
``When you're on IR, you're just sitting there and you feel like you're just wasting away,'' he said. ``None of the coaches really associate with you anymore because you're not playing football. It was hard, but my brother was a motivation for me.''
Mangini has noticed the improvement in Spencer's approach.
``Cody really developed a preparation routine, and that routine he's followed, he's been disciplined with it and you see the jumps in his play as he's stayed with it,'' he said.
The long days of practice in the heat are nothing for Spencer. He worked as a deck hand on his grandfather George's shrimping boat in the Gulf of Mexico during the summers from the time he was in first grade until he went to college.
``I grew up on the coast in south Texas and my dad works on oil rigs, so I was either off shore with my dad on an oil rig or I was shrimping with my grandpa,'' Spencer said. ``My grandpa would come and pick me up and it was an opportunity to make some good money as a kid. Most people might think it's a little weird or redneck, but if you ever got a chance to do it, you'd see it was pretty cool.''
Spencer wasn't just along for the cool breeze on the open water.
``When the net came up and everything got dropped out, you had to separate the shrimp from all the fish and everything like that,'' Spencer said. ``That's pretty much all I did. I put all the shrimp in the ice box and we'd load them up on the dock and sell them.''
Predictably, Spencer is a big fan of the reality show ``Deadliest Catch,'' which chronicles the perils crab fishing crews face in the Bering Sea.
``It's not as dangerous as that,'' he said with a laugh, ``but it's definitely been neat for me.''

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