Randy Gregory Prepping To Be Cowboys D's '12th Starter'

Mike Fisher
August 23, 2018 - 5:53 am
Randy Gregory

© Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

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FRISCO (105.3 THE FAN) - Randy Gregory's preseason performance in Saturday's loss to the Bengals was impressive to the untrained eye, yet defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli graded the defensive end's debut after almost two years on the NFL suspension list as "a C-minus.''

But, joked, Gregory, "a D-minus is passing, technically.

And the truth is, from the slow and deliberate work on the training camp field in Oxnard to AT&T Stadium for 10 pregame snaps to today inside the Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, what the 2015 second-round pick is really grading out to be is ...

A part-time starter. The "12th starter,'' if you will.

“I don’t know,” Gregory said when I asked him if he would characterize himself that way. “That’s something up to the coaches. All I can do is go out there and give my best effort, control what I can control, which is go hard, running hard, go after the ball. And I think I’m doing that. I think if I continue to do that, I have faith I’ll be out there when I need to be.”

The "when'' is the Sept. 9 season-opener at the Carolina Panthers. Officially, DeMarcus Lawrence will be listed as the first-team right end, and Tyrone Crawford as the first-team left end. But in today's NFL, offenses come at you 60 or 70 percent of the time with pass-first personnel groups, which nudge defenses into playing their Nickel alignments.

In the secondary, that means a third corner (right now, Anthony Brown holding off Jourdan Lewis) lining up in the slot. At linebacker, that means Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith are the only two, max, who stay on the field.

And upfront? In recent practices, it's meant Crawford sliding inside to play defensive tackle (the "under-tackle'' or 3-Tech) with Gregory taking his spot at right end.

The veteran Crawford, the leader of the D-line room, has been open about enjoying his time outside, and this offseason he re-make his body, looking leaner to play outside. But he's got plenty of experience as an every-down under-tackle and as an interior pass-rusher, can be the beneficiary of mismatches.

Meanwhile, Lawrence looks primed to follow up nicely on his 14.5-sacks season from a year ago. Dallas can and will use an assortment of other guys at the nose/1-Tech spot. And young ends Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong also fiigure in the pass-rush rotation.

But it's the rapid ascension of Gregory that qualifies as the biggest surprise ... and maybe the most impactful one. He hadn't played football since the 2016 season finale because of the NFL suspension due to repeated violations of the league’s substance abuse policy.

Marinelli admitted to me that he issued Gregory a relatively poor grade for his game-day work in part to serve as a carrot on a stick. He doesn't want Gregory to think he's "arrived'' yet.

But the practice snaps with the first-team defense again this week do not lie.

“It’s nice,” Gregory said of his elevated status. “I think I’ve prepared the right way as far as going out there. A lot of it is pass-rush situations and nickel packages and most of that is getting off the ball and getting after the quarterback, which I feel comfortable with. I think I’m doing pretty decent at that in practice and showing that on the field.”

The next step? Show the same thing in Carolina ... as the Cowboys defense's "12th starter.''