FRISCO, Texas - It's hard to believe that a player of Randy Gregory's talent was drafted in 2015 and has only started one game in his career. There has always been the promise of potential with the defensive end and former second-round pick, but repeated violations of the league's substance abuse policies have hampered his availability for the majority of his career, having only played in 38 career games.
But Gregory was reinstated in the middle of last season. His last mini-camp experience was his rookie season. Now, he's on the field and says it's "refreshing" to have the opportunity to be a player who a team can rely upon.
"In my past, I had a lot of time to myself not being with the team," Gregory said of the time that he was serving suspensions or when his status was in limbo. "That was a tough time. Being around the guys in the locker room, day to day, week to week, being around the coaches, it kind of just gives me a purpose."
At 28-years-old, there is limited wear and tear on Gregory's body which has a naturally lean and athletic build. It's been the mental aspect that's been crucial for him to master through a journey of setbacks that were partly self-inflicted, but also created a narrative about him that he doesn't believe reflects his commitment.
"It takes time to build trust," Gregory admitted. "Hopefully there's a time when we can sit here for 10-15 minutes and you won't even ask about my past."
In reality, Gregory has done everything the team and the league has asked of him without any issues or setbacks, but from a public perception standpoint, people will stop talking about Gregory's past when they see him regularly on the field.
Gregory only played 271 defensive snaps in his 10 games in 2020, despite being healthy, available, and performing well according to both him and the coaching staff. Eager to prove himself on a struggling team, Gregory naturally wanted more playing time.
"There were a lot of factors at play," Gregory said, fairly diplomatically of his snap count. "I wasn't happy with my playing time. Were there conversations around that? Of course. I think that's more internal." Gregory then went on to say that he is thrilled to be working with the current staff and that he believes they love what he is bringing to the team. He said that Dan Quinn worked him out before he was drafted in Nebraska and that he loved Quinn's energy and attention to detail.
"He's a player's coach," Gregory said of Quinn. "He knows how to relate to the guys. I'm really excited to have him in the next leg of my career."
The structure of an offseason program is something that Gregory has missed nearly his entire NFL career, and while mini-camp might seem like a job you show up to for a lot of players, it's a job that's been taken away from Gregory more than once.
"It gives me an excuse to wake up in the morning and have fun," Gregory said Tuesday. "What I like about this staff right now is that they are making it fun. They are looking at the details and what builds a good football player, not just the Xs and Os. They're really trying to get the best out of you."
Plenty of Cowboys fans want to see Gregory in the starting lineup in Week 1, and the defensive end has all the confidence that he's ever had. The real difference between the past two years of Gregory and the one who kept finding himself on the wrong side of NFL rulings? Self-love.
"There was a point in my life when if you asked me to say one good thing about myself and I couldn't," Gregory said. "I could tell you 20 bad things. I've come a long way from that. I can say a lot of good things. I'm proud of myself. I'm proud of my journey. I've made a lot of mistakes, but I think I've earned what I've gotten, whether good or bad."