OXNARD, Calif. – Randy Gregory has learned a few things in the last 18 months, and his biggest takeaway sounded like a no-brainer.
"I'd just have to say resiliency or persistence, one or the other. Just having the ability to bounce back after you've been down a couple times," he said.
It's a logical answer. Gregory spoke to reporters on Monday morning, marking his first public comments since he was reinstated by the NFL earlier this summer. More impressively, they were Gregory's first comments as a member of the Cowboys since he was banned from the league back at the end of the 2016 season.
"I think the last two weeks has been real fun. I think the days, the weeks, the months leading up to this have been pretty emotional," Gregory said. "I think I've learned to handle my emotions a lot better than I have in the past. A lot of ups and downs, things like that. But definitely the last two weeks has been a fun experience, just being able to get back out there with my teammates."
There's a lot of work left to do, but the mere fact that Gregory practiced with the Dallas defense on Sunday afternoon defied a lot of expectations. It's not an exaggeration to say that many people never thought he'd put on a Cowboys uniform again after he failed or missed multiple drug tests, resulting in a 14-game suspension in 2016 – followed by the eventual yearlong suspension for another infraction.
Reflecting on it, Gregory admitted that in his darkest moments, he wasn't sure he'd bounce back, either.
"Obviously, there was a chance that I would play again if I did the right things, but just looking at everything that was mapped out as far as what I needed to do and what I had going on in my life at the time, it was hard for me to say that I really thought I was going to be back," he said.
It took a collective effort to overcome those low points. Gregory credited his attorney, Daniel Maskowitz, with the hefty amount of legwork required to secure his reinstatement. He's also got a team of people working with him – both from within the organization and out. Mike Ornstein, who has worked in NFL circles for a long time, is working with Gregory to make sure he doesn't return to those old habits.
"Randy's going to have somebody with him throughout this year and we'll see how he is a year from now," Ornstein said. "If he's good enough to be on his own, then he will. But right now, I'm not letting this kid fall back. And he listens good. He's a good listener."
His head coach would second that opinion. Jason Garrett didn't want to get too far into the specifics of Gregory's battles off the field, but he had high praise for the work he has done to get himself back onto it.
"I'm not an expert by any means on addiction issues and I don't think it would be real smart of me to comment too much further on that. You should have someone else comment on that," Garrett said. "But I do know he's worked very hard at getting himself right to get him to the point to where he can be a football player for us."
To be fair, the situation is vague – and understandably so. Gregory was asked Monday morning if he has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, as has been speculated before. He declined to get into specifics, given the personal nature of the question.
That said, he added that he's not blind to the stigma surrounding mental health issues, not to mention the perception that he's simply a football player who can't stop himself from smoking weed.
"I think the stigma obviously, what I've been known to get in trouble for is the marijuana issues, substance abuse, so that's what is going to stick to the media and the fans and things like that, and that's fine," he said. "But I just would like everyone to realize that there is more to it and there is a stigma behind it and it's not just somebody walking around carelessly doing what they want."
It's an honest and a valid assessment, but to Ornstein's point, it's still going to require hard work and discipline. And, as Gregory added, that involves staying out of his own way.
"I understand there's a lot of different things you can do throughout that process to make life easier for yourself and a lot of those things I was putting in front of myself, self-sabotage," he said. "I had to realize that I had to grow up a little bit, and I think I have."
There's a lot of work left to do, but the early returns have to be encouraging – both for Gregory and the Cowboys. In his first snaps back on the practice field, he helped the defense record a sack, and team/owner general manager Jerry Jones has already said he expects Gregory to contribute in the season opener.
All of that is still to come. After all, Gregory has still participated in just one practice. But with three weeks to go in training camp, the fact that it's a conversation is a testament to his hard work – not to mention those who helped him get here.
"I think they believe in me. I think first and foremost they like me as not only a player but a person," Gregory said. "And then I've always tried to do the right thing. I know I always haven't, but I've tried. And I think they realize that I was a person in need. And sticking by me throughout that tough part and even now has been really important for me to get back and I think has worked."