The New Orleans Saints are getting their leader back.

Drew Brees plans to start against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night, ending the only injury-imposed absence that the face of the franchise has endured in his NFL career.

Brees, who tried to find a way to rehab his bruised rotator cuff in time to play against Carolina last week before succumbing to a lack of strength in his throwing shoulder, has spent this week taking most of the reps in practice, the way he normally would as the starting quarterback, and his arm responded.

“Each day you just pay attention to how he’s functioning. He looked crisp today, so I think he’s gonna end up starting,” coach Sean Payton said Friday. “Based on the way the week unfolded, each day I felt like he has made the progress we were looking for, deep balls and all that stuff.”

Brees, blessed throughout his career with an inexhaustible optimism, has approached the rehabilitation of his shoulder the same way.

With reports swirling that he could miss multiple games after suffering the injury on a Jacquies Smith hit against Tampa Bay two weeks ago, Brees remained convinced he had a chance to play against the Panthers up until a Friday throwing session last week. At the time, his arm simply didn’t have the velocity.

For a competitor like Brees, admitting defeat is no easy task.

“Yeah, I mean, this has not been a pleasurable experience for me,” Brees said Wednesday.

If Brees felt anything other than frustration during his week away, his teammates never saw it. Brees never missed a practice session, not even after he had decided Luke McCown would take over last Friday.

“He was always very uplifting, very encouraging, confident,” running back Mark Ingram said. “He always has his head up high. You can’t tell a difference in him.”

Brees took a four-day break between throwing sessions over the weekend.

But he never stopped working. The same work ethic that helped build Brees into one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks applies to the rehabilitation of any injury. Brees has been in the Saints’ team facility earlier than most over the past two weeks, and he’s leaving long after the rest of the team. Brees also consulted with Dr. James Andrews twice and several other experts, trying to figure out the best way to return quickly.

“You don’t play a long time in this league without going through injuries and having to fight back from injuries,” tight end Ben Watson said. “You see the focus. You get up early in the morning to get treatment, you try to discover new and different ways to get treatment, you’re making phone calls to different people who’ve had similar injuries, you’re flying in different experts, you’re going to experts. ... You do all those things so you can be prepared to go out on Sundays.”

Brees returned to throwing duties in practice Wednesday, and by all accounts, he’s got the velocity and the spiral to make all of the throws in the Saints’ offense as New Orleans tries to escape the dwindling ranks of the winless NFL teams against a Cowboys team that is battered and bruised itself, missing quarterback Tony Romo and receiver Dez Bryant.

The Saints are excited to get their franchise quarterback back.

“When somebody gets injured, it’s not about how hard you get knocked down; it’s about how you get up,” Ingram said. “It says a lot about him.”