IRVING, Texas (AP) -After spending most of last week practicing with the first team, Greg Ellis thought he'd regained his job as a starting linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys.
Although he never heard it directly from coach Wade Phillips like he was hoping, Ellis figured it had to be true when he was told to line up for pregame introductions.
Then nine names were called and he was still standing in the inflatable helmet in the end zone. Always a worrier, Ellis started thinking all sorts of things.
Did he miss hearing his own name? Or did the announcer not get the message and call out Anthony Spencer's name instead?
Or, worst of all, did coaches change their mind?
There was nothing to fear. Ellis simply was receiving the honor of being the last player introduced.
When ``No. 98, linebacker Greg Ellis,'' finally was called out, Ellis heard some of the loudest cheers in his 10-year career. In turn, he showed about as much emotion as he ever has, jumping up and down, then running out with his helmet off, showing a smile wide enough to be seen through the hole in the roof of Texas Stadium.
``I really didn't pay a whole lot of attention to the crowd at first,'' Ellis said Wednesday. ``But then I was like, `Man, they really like me!' And the energy continued to build up, build up. ... It was real, real moving.''
Ellis rewarded the faith of his fans and coaches by coming up with two sacks in a victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
``So it was just a good day,'' he said.
Less than a year after tearing his left Achilles' tendon, Ellis is back where he left off, doing his best to make everyone forgive him for a second straight disgruntled offseason.
The drama a year ago surrounded his move from defensive end to linebacker, which he feared was a setup for failure. Then he gave it a good try and found out he was good at it. He was even tied for the team lead in sacks when his tendon tore in November.
Another round of grumpiness began in April when Spencer was drafted in the first round to be Ellis' replacement. Although Ellis went out of his way to show the kid the ropes, he let everyone know he felt he was being phased out.
Ellis healed enough to make the first practice of training camp, but left in pain after only a few minutes. Then came the most bizarre part of his saga - weeks of being listed as day-to-day with Phillips insisting he'd be fine and Ellis wondering if he'd ever play again.
The standoff ended when team owner Jerry Jones intervened, throwing around a little money and a lot of comfort. Ellis returned for Week 4, against the St. Louis Rams.
Ellis said that was the most emotional game of his career because only weeks before he'd contemplated retiring. Plus, his two kids watched him play in person for the first time. He ranks returning to the starting lineup this past weekend as a close second on his list of most-emotional outings.
``It was a long road for me,'' he said. ``You're talking about almost a year of not being able to play. Now you're able to go back out there and start.''
He's thriving, too.
Ellis had 1 1/2 sacks in his debut, then got another against Tom Brady two weeks later. He also forced a fumble by Brady that was returned for a touchdown by lineman Jason Hatcher.
With his two sacks Sunday, Ellis' season total of 4 1/2 matches his nine-game total from last season. He ranks second on the club to DeMarcus Ware and fifth among all NFL linebackers. He's 17th overall, and everyone ahead of him has played several more games.
``He definitely gives us a different dimension to our defense,'' said linebacker Bradie James, who has inherited the mantle of defensive captain from Ellis.
Ware's numbers also have been going up since Ellis returned. It's no stretch to say each helps the other.
``If you double the one guy then the other is going to give you some problems,'' Phillips said. ``What we saw some is they double both of them, but they don't have anyone to throw it to.''
The Cowboys also can start tinkering with using Ellis, Ware and Spencer at times. They did so a few times Sunday with good results.
With no game this weekend, Ellis has more time to recover. Not that he needs it, which may be the best sign yet of his recovery.
``I was able to play like 42 plays and did everything I could possibly do - coverage, playing the run, pass rushing, the whole thing,'' he said. ``The next day, I felt great. I'm continuing to do treatment on it. For the most part, it feels good.''
For him and for the entire Dallas defense.

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