ARLINGTON, Texas – Randy Gregory didn't look back Saturday.
There are moments, in his spare time, when he reflects on where he's been in the 20 months since he last played a game with the Dallas Cowboys. But as the hours ticked down to kickoff at AT&T Stadium, he focused only on the present.
"I think if I did (reflect), that would kind of take my mindset away from the game," Gregory said. "I think I did it the right way just coming in here like a professional, prepare, have everything ready, come out here early, warm up and carry on as I would any other game."
Gregory said he played 10 snaps in Saturday's preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals. He did not record any statistics, but his presence alone was step forward in his long journey back to the league and the team that drafted him in the second round back in 2015.
Repeated violations of the league's substance abuse policy limited Gregory to only two games in the last two seasons. Gregory has said there were times in the past year when he wasn't sure he'd ever play football again.
Yet, with a league-approved support structure as part of his reinstatement, Gregory has another chance to make use of his talents. He's one of the most gifted pass rushers on the Cowboys' roster, and on Saturday he got some work in nickel situations from the right defensive end spot.
His teammates were happy to see him in uniform. Many submitted letters of recommendation to the NFL during his suspension – lifted just before the start of training camp – that expressed their belief in his character and desire to do right.
"It's unbelievable to see what he's overcome," linebacker Sean Lee said.
Said Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones: "His road is still ahead of him, and we've got to be cautious of how we get excited about it. But it sure is good to see him getting to this particular point."
The Cowboys have taken a deliberate approach with Gregory's return to football. He didn't begin practicing until a week ago, focusing first on conditioning and acclimating himself to football movements again.
Then came individual reps in practice. Then, team drills with pads on. Now, a couple of defensive series in the 21-13 loss to the Bengals.
"I haven't played an actual game in basically two years," he said. "Practice is one thing, conditioning is one thing, personal training is one thing. But to actually go out there on the field and be with my guys and just attempt to make some plays, it felt real good.
"There's obviously a level of confidence you have to have to go out there and play at a high level. I think I'm still trying to get that back. I think I've lost some confidence over the years just going through what I've gone through and not playing to the potential I could. I think that's the main thing I've got to get back as far as coming back and playing with the Cowboys."
He took another step forward on Saturday.