FILE - In this 2014 file photo, Anthony Spencer of the Dallas Cowboys NFL football team smiles for a portrait. All signs point to Spencer playing his first game in a year Sunday night against New Orleans. The Dallas defensive end had microfracture surgery on a troublesome knee after playing just one game in 2013. (AP Photo/File)
IRVING, Texas — Anthony Spencer quietly worked his way back without knowing when he would return from left knee surgery that threatened his career.
The Dallas defensive end finally has an answer, or so it appears. He's expected to play Sunday night against New Orleans, almost a year to the day since the microfracture procedure.
Spencer played just one game last season after dealing with the troublesome knee throughout the 2013 offseason. He had surgery last Oct. 1.
The 30-year-old Spencer skipped practice Friday and was listed as questionable a day after defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said he was likely to play. He went through limited workouts earlier in the week.
The eighth-year player isn't likely to see many snaps against the Saints, but the Dallas front four can use the help. The defensive line has just half a sack, and the team only three, through three games.
The Cowboys (2-1) are facing Drew Brees, who was sacked just once total in games against Dallas the past two years. He threw for 838 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions, in part because he was rarely bothered in the pocket.
"It's coming at a point in time where we need his strength with his pass rush," cornerback Brandon Carr said. "His ability to get off the ball will be big for us if we can find a way to get him into the game and get him after the quarterback."
Spencer, who wasn't available in the locker room Friday, had a career-high 11 sacks his last full season in 2012, which was the second of consecutive years under the franchise tag.
He earned $10.6 million a year ago, but is getting just $250,000 guaranteed in his current $1.25 million deal signed late in free agency because of uncertainty over his recovery.
"It has been a long year and a lot of hard work on his part," said his agent, Jordan Woy. "It was major surgery and you never know how a player will recover. But he has put in the sacrificial hours to get back to being football-ready."
Spencer never put a timetable on a return, always telling reporters he would simply wait until his body felt the time was right. The Cowboys decided not to put him on the physically unable to perform list to start the season, which would have meant missing six games.
"He's a pretty reserved person," Carr said. "His work ethic speaks for itself. Whatever peaks and valleys he went through, he fought it out to this point now where we can get him for a big game Sunday night."
When he started his recovery, Spencer couldn't be sure this day would come.
NOTES: LB Rolando McClain (groin) practiced for the first time in two weeks and was listed as questionable along with DT Henry Melton (groin), who practiced for the first time this week. ... DT Terrell McClain (concussion) missed practice all week but was listed as questionable rather than doubtful.
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