OXNARD, Calif. – The Randy Gregory hype train is growing.
Randy Gregory says tap the brakes just a bit.
That doesn't mean the gifted 28-year-old pass rusher lacks confidence. Having put together the first complete offseason of his NFL career, there's reason to believe Gregory can finally realize his enormous potential.
That's what he's building toward here in training camp. But with only 26 game appearances since joining the Cowboys as a second-round pick in 2015 – the result of multiple suspensions for violating the league's substance abuse policy – he realizes there's plenty more work ahead.
"Look, I still have a lot to prove," he told reporters Saturday. "There's a lot of talk going around right now, and I really believe I'm having a good offseason. But there's still a lot to prove on the field. So don't want to sit here and say, "Did you ever doubt that you could get here?' I still feel like I still haven't really, truly arrived. There's a lot for me to do.
"With that said, I still want to give myself a pat on the back. I really feel like I deserve it and I've worked hard to get to this point. From this point on I've just got to put some good play on the field and stay out of trouble, which I'm trying to do, and be the guy that everyone expects me to be and I expect myself to be."
Through the suspensions, through all his time away from the team, the Cowboys stuck with Gregory, believing firmly that his situation was the result of a medical condition. The NFL once again conditionally reinstated Gregory last September, and after a required football acclimation period he returned for the final 10 games, ranking third on the team in quarterback pressures (16) and tying for third in sacks (3.5). Pro Football Focus gave him the second-best overall defensive grade (80.5), behind only DeMarcus Lawrence (88.6), among Cowboys players in the regular rotation despite playing only about 40% of the snaps.
By all accounts Gregory is in a better place, professionally and personally, than past stages of his career. He says his self-confidence is growing. And the Cowboys believe in him. Head coach Mike McCarthy confirmed that Gregory has been named to the players' leadership council.
"It's a huge statement," McCarthy said. "We all have history. So you have a starting point and based on our starting point to where he is today, he's made a huge leap. But I really think it's just the beginning."
That's what Gregory expects from himself, too.
"I wasn't really expecting that (with the leadership council), but I think that it says a lot about my journey as far as my growth," he said. "I think five years ago, this would never even be a conversation. I didn't have any sort of leadership skills and even right now I'm still working on that. One of my things is being more vocal. I haven't been very good at that in the past and I'm trying to do that around the guys."
The next step, he says, is being a consistent producer on the field.
If you're asked to name most impressive players in the Cowboys' first seven training camp practices, the list might need to start with him.
As a pass rusher, he's a blur off the edge with rare bend and first-step explosion. He's also added weight and strength over the years and developed into a reliable edge-setter against the run.
"Can't get outside of him," McCarthy said. "He's a great athlete definitely in space, but he has a really good understanding. He has a knack for that. That's something he's done very well his whole time in the league."
As a projected starter for the first time in his career, it's tempting to start projecting what kind of numbers Gregory can post in 2021 – and what his contract situation might be in 2022, when he's set to be an unrestricted free agent.
It's the furthest thing from his mind.
"I truly don't get caught up in the contract talk," he said. "I don't think I deserve the right to sit there and talk about contracts right now. I'm perfectly happy with the amount of money I make. I really am.
"If I go out there and do what I need to do and we get the wins we expect to get, then the money will come in the future."