Al Johnson offers hope on Spencer return

IRVING, Texas – Al Johnson was a second-round pick for the Dallas Cowboys in 2003, but before he could ever play in a game he needed microfracture surgery on his right knee.

If there’s somebody who knows what Anthony Spencer will face if he chooses to have that procedure, it’s Johnson.

“To this day I’ve had no problems with my right knee,” Johnson said. “You couldn’t even tell I had surgery. It doesn’t bother me one bit, even at the end of my career.”

Johnson played in 48 games with Dallas from 2004-06, starting 31, before signing in 2007 with Arizona, where he started 14 games. His career came to an end in 2008 with Miami because of problems with his left knee.

But Johnson offers hope for Spencer for a recovery. He had his surgery in August 2003 and was back on the field full-time by March 2004 -- and did not miss an organized team activity, mini-camp practice or training-camp practice.

“I didn’t do much for a long time,” said Johnson, who is now a high school football coach in Wisconsin. “I was on crutches for a full six weeks, no weight on the area. Then it’s a slow rehab process to get back into it. The good thing was that I had a lot of time, and that’s what Anthony’s going to have, minus two months. I was back doing the full offseason workload by March.”

Johnson had his microfracture surgery performed at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colo.

“The more I talked to doctors about it, the biggest thing was the size of the affected area,” Johnson said. “Mine was about 10 centimeters, which was pretty small, and it was a new injury. It’s like this: If you dig a hole straight down, it’s easier to fill back in, but if it’s an older injury, it’s rounded like a beach, and it’s slow in and slow out. What they do is drill holes, it fills up with blood and then it’s supposed to harden. If it’s a jagged edge or a deep edge it fills in. But if it’s like a beach, then sometimes it doesn’t take because you keep wearing it away.”

Johnson lost weight to help with the weight-bearing issues, but was able to regain the pounds when he picked up his rehab. The Cowboys have had other success stories with microfracture surgery, including linebacker Kevin Hardy.

The key, Johnson said, is patience.

“We have awesome trainers with the Cowboys,” Johnson said. “They do a great job. They followed my doctor’s protocol. Even after I came back I never had one issue. I didn’t have any swelling. That’s the big thing.”