Anthony Spencer glad to be back

IRVING, Texas -- For Anthony Spencer, the question is not if he can return from microfracture surgery on his knee, but when.

“I’m not really thinking about a day,” said Spencer, who signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys on Saturday. “I’m taking it day by day and hopefully I’ll be back for training camp. I know it’s not going to be the [organized team activities] but camp is what I’m shooting for.”

The Cowboys are scheduled to fly to Oxnard, Calif., on July 22 with their first practice on July 23.

Spencer played in only one game last year, recording two tackles against the Kansas City Chiefs before requiring microfracture surgery on his left knee. He started lifting weights two weeks ago and is doing some light jogging at 65 percent of his body weight on an anti-gravity treadmill.

“It’s getting there,” Spencer said. “I’ve probably got another month or so. When I had the surgery, they said it was a six- to eight-month recovery. I’m in the five- to seven-month range now. I just need to continue to get it stronger and stronger.”

Spencer has been rehabbing at the Cowboys’ Valley Ranch facility since having surgery. He said his comfort level with the coaches and training staff played a part in his decision to re-sign with the Cowboys.

“They know me the best,” he said. “They know when I can push it and when I need some rest.”

If healthy, Spencer should be the team’s left defensive end in 2014. He had 12 sacks in 2012 as an outside linebacker and was in the process of making the transition to full-time defensive end last year. Considering how much time the Cowboys were in their nickel defense when they ran a 3-4 scheme, Spencer said it did not take him long to get adjusted to his hand on the ground.

He is one of four defensive linemen the Cowboys have signed in free agency, joining Henry Melton, Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain.

“I think it would be pretty important [to have some playing time in training camp] just being out for a year,” Spencer said. “It takes some time to get the footwork down and your hands ready and get everything coordinated again.”

This is the third straight year Spencer has signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys. He received the franchise tag in 2012 and ’13, earning $19.4 million. The one-year deal he signed this year could be worth as much as $3.5 million if he is on the active roster every week and hits all of his incentives. He did not receive a signing bonus and his base salary is $1.25 million.

“The last few years I played it was probably better I had a one-year deal rather than having a long-term deal because it’s not guaranteed,” Spencer said. “In a lot of ways you’re always on a one-year deal.”

While the one-year contract is familiar territory, he is in the unfamiliar position of being the longest-tenured defensive player with the losses of DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher in the offseason.

“It is a big change. I was thinking about it today that I really don’t know too many people in here,” Spencer joked. “I’ve got to start getting to know them.”

Spencer and the Cowboys are hoping he returns to form as a reliable run defender, solid pass-rusher and quality player.

“I feel like I’m a rookie again with something to prove,” Spencer said. “I’m just trying to get stronger and hopefully be better than I was. That’s the goal.”