Cowboys Truth Inside Anthony Spencer's Knee

IRVING - Anthony Spencer's 'mild' knee injury was never just mild. Announced as a 'bone bruise,' it was never just a bruise. As the Pro Bowl defensive end begins his long climb back to the Cowboys active roster, Anthony Spencer helps us face three truths about his knee problem.

Last summer, Anthony Spencer's "mild'' knee injury was announced as a "bone bruise,'' and the Pro Bowl defensive end sat out the start of Dallas Cowboys training camp, then underwent a surgery some mistakenly thought was designed to repair the problem, then make a brief appearance in a Week 2 game at Kansas City ...

And that was it. After that, Spencer underwent microfracture surgery. And suddenly, the team's best defensive player in 2013 is in football limbo.

Now, Spencer cheerily tells me that if he didn't believe he could recover from last year's career-threatening microfracture knee surgery, "I wouldn't be here." But a source close to the situation tells me he is "sure" the one-time Pro Bowler will start the season on the PUP list. And while it' true that last week, while his mates worked in minicamp practice, he jogged along the sideline, "jogging'' ain't "playing.''

''I've gotten to where I am by listening to my body and rehabbing and doing things at the pace of my body,'' Spencer tells me. ''That's one of the biggest things with this surgery ... is just being patient. I'm just not pushing it anywhere past that."

Spencer made $10 million last year but made virtually no contributions to the Cowboys after having been the club's best defensive player in 2012. This year he's playing under the terms of a one-year deal with a very modest $1.5 million base and a chance to earn $3.5 million. There is no financial downside to his presence on the 90-man roster now or on that Physically Unable to Perform List once the season ends.

''There have been players who have come back from an injury like Spence's,'' coach Jason Garrett says of the eight-year pro. "And when you have Spence's character, his makeup, the kind of person he is, you certainly want to give him every chance.''

The Cowboys are in the process of rebuilding their defensive line, including the drafting of second-round pass-rush end DeMarcus Lawrence (ideally replacing future Hall-of-Famer DeMarcus Ware, now in Denver) and veteran defensive tackle Henry Melton (replacing Pro Bowler Jason Hatcher, now in Washington). Finding a player (or "players" in defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's "waves" plan) to play right defensive end is part of the process, too. Tyrone Crawford is winning the job, but Anthony Spencer wants to be that answer. Still, right now, there is more hope than there is promise.

To the truths:

It wasn't a just a bruise.

There were reasons for the Cowboys to be unusually cautious last summer -- maybe more cautious that they were – and one of the reasons is named "Kevin Ware.''

Ware is the Louisville basketball player who sustained one of the most infamous and gruesome injuries ever captured on live television on May 31 of last year in the NCAA Tournament when he snapped his tibia.

How in the world is this related to Spencer?

A medical source with knowledge of Spencer's situation (but one not affiliated with the Cowboys) told me at the time that the term "bone bruise'' is a misnomer; it actually means a fracturing of the inner layer of bone. Among the issues: such an ailment weakens the outer layer of the bone, the hardest part, possibly making a serious fracture more likely down the line if it isn't managed properly.

The Cowboys themselves didn't see it that way. Maybe they were right. But this is the sort of injury that can domino on itself.

The tie to the Louisville basketball player?
It's barely publicized at all that six weeks before Ware's horrible compound fracture, on January 21, he sustained another seemingly scary knee injury that was eventually diagnosed as a "bone bruise.'' Ware played through the injury, and in doing so, may have set himself up for the later broken tibia.

Says our source: "Ware's knee buckled and there was no shock absorption from his knee. That transmits 1,000 pounds of pressure somewhere else – and that amount of pressure can break a bone.''

To me, that was the concern last summer with Spencer: Severity. Severity that the Cowboys didn't wish to address publically.

"We don't think it's a severe thing," Garrett said back then. "We're just trying to come up with what we think is the best option here in the next few days."

The Cowboys eventually had Spencer undergo "minor surgery'' on his knee that they let the media and the public believe could cause him to miss two to three weeks. But if the bone-bruise diagnosis is correct, it's not clear what surgery was going to repair. I think they cleaned up loose bodies in the knee, but that's no cure for the "bone bruise.'' ... because there is no cure for that, outside of rest.

And now Spencer "rests'' away from the football field for a long, long time.

In my visits with him he's upbeat; he's recently married, he's keeping his weight under 260, and he's doing everything necessary to attempt, at 31, to return to form.

"Lean and mean,'' he said, laughing.

What Spencer knows -- laughing and jogging aside -- is that the only remedy for the "bone bruise that is really a fracture'' was supposed to be patience. Now, the only remedy for rehab from microfracture knee surgery is ... more patience.

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