Spencer taking it day-by-day with Cowboys
MAY 17, 2014 2:09p ET
IRVING, Texas -- In an offseason where the Dallas Cowboys have already seen their two most experienced defensive players head elsewhere in Jason Hatcher, now with Washington, and DeMarcus Ware, now in Denver, there's little doubt how important it is for standout end Anthony Spencer, a 2012 Pro Bowler, to return to his old self.
Now 30 and heading into his eighth NFL season, Spencer is just a few months removed from micro-fracture surgery on his left knee. He played just one game last season, a 17-16 loss at Kansas City in Week Two, before having surgery last September, cutting short a season that was a far cry from the campaign he delivered in 2012, with 11 sacks and 95 tackles.
Spencer will not participate in Organized Team Activities (OTAs) or the mandatory mini-camp next month and may or may not be able to participate in training camp, which is set to begin in late July in Oxnard, California.
But the veteran end admits he's not looking that far ahead. Instead, he's focused on the task at hand, making strides, no matter how small, each and every day.
"I'm just going day-to-day. I'm not really thinking anywhere past today. I had a good workout today (Friday) and just trying to build on that," Spencer said.
The Indiana native signed a one-year contract in March that could net him around $3.5 million provided he hits every part of the incentive-laden deal. And as someone who has been at Valley Ranch since 2007, when Dallas took him 26th overall, he admits it's a bit weird to look around the locker room and not see the likes of Hatcher and Ware.
"I'm the oldest guy in the room or second oldest next to (Jeremy) Mincey. The room is same kind of, just different not temperaments but personalities, so you just got to deal with that and gel us together as much as possible," Spencer said. "Going through training camp and OTAs and mini-camp, you build a bond with guys like that. That's just basically what we're doing, just building right now."
However, that's not the only change for the former Purdue standout this offseason. In March, he became a free agent not long after his wife gave birth to their first child, a daughter. Besides his rehab, he's currently focused on enjoying the many facets of being a new father, something which might even help him avoid worrying about when he might be able to return.
But that's not to say Spencer isn't completely aware of how rare it is for an NFL player to come back from this injury. There are several well-documented cases of former NBA players doing so, guys like Penny Hardaway and Chris Webber, but the NFL-related success stories are few and far between.
"This injury, it's really uncommon. You rarely see guys coming back from it, so I'm really not looking at any type of timetable. I'm just on my body's schedule. Wherever my body is, that's where I am," Spencer said.
And since his injury is one that is so rare to see NFL players successfully return from, it's truly understandable that he is taking things very slow in his rehab.
"It's a process. I'm learning how to gauge it, what I can do and what I can't do. The more I can do, the more I can do the next day, so it's getting better," Spencer said.
But it definitely helps that he is doing his rehab in familiar surroundings and working with doctors and other individuals he has become familiar with during his time in Dallas and that high comfort level gives him some much-needed peace of mind as he faces what appears to be an uncertain future considering the questionable track record of fellow NFL players returning from the same injury.
"Yeah, I'm very familiar with everyone around here. I'm comfortable. My family's comfortable here. I don't want to go somewhere we're not comfortable and having to deal with the surgery and coming back from it. Just being comfortable I think is a big key to it all," Spencer said.
And if he is concerned about his future, he's not letting on in the least. Instead, he is seeing the experience of missing most of last season and then returning to a club minus two of its more familiar faces on defense for what it is-something of a flashback to when he was a rookie and all of this was new to him.
"This league is what it is. You've got to come in and prove yourself each year. Last year, I didn't play so I just got to be like a rookie again-having to come in and dig out my trench and find a way to get through this," Spencer said.