For some members of the Dallas Cowboys, ten plays is likely all they needed to see played against the Bengals for the team's home debut on Saturday. The Cowboys came out of week two with plenty of injury scares, potentially losing starters Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier, and even Zack Martin for the regular season opener.
For Defensive End Randy Gregory, ten snaps wasn't nearly enough for a player making his return to a real game for the first time since January 1st, 2017. Gregory's lengthy reinstatement process has already turned the former second round pick into a Cowboys success story, with the team now focused on having him reclaim the right defensive end position.
In doing so on passing downs against the Bengals, Gregory played his first game at AT&T Stadium since December of 2016 (Dez Bryant threw a touchdown to Jason Witten in this game), and clearly looked like a player enjoying every second of playing in front of his home fans.
Gregory did not officially show up in the box score, but did have this would-be sack blown dead on a false start. This play is just one example of many where Gregory was able to “rush the half man”. This means he attacked the outside shoulder of the left tackle and reduced his blocking surface area.
The bend and finish ability wasn't quite there with Gregory yet, but this explosive first step paired with a noticeable increase in upper body strength is a great starting point.
When Gregory wasn't in the game, Tyrone Crawford and Dorance Armstrong took the majority of snaps on the weak side. On the above play, Gregory and Crawford were on the field together, with Crawford reduced to the 3T-DT position.
Gregory ends up the furthest up field of any Cowboys linemen, and still hustles back into the play to make a hit away from the ball. It's this youthful energy that the Cowboys have seen Gregory turn into sacks before, with reason to believe he can do it again.
With Crawford and Armstrong also looking good at Gregory's position, the Cowboys can keep him fresh. This will almost surely mean more than ten snaps a game for Gregory, which is where his added upper body weight becomes important.
Durability is not the latest concern Gregory wants to bring to the team that's never faltered on wanting his talent, and personality, to be a part of their culture. Without a legitimate sample size to work with, it's difficult to say that Gregory will be “the best he ever has”, but having a chance to get reps in the two more preseason games puts him well ahead of the curve.
— fishsports (@fishsports) August 20, 2018
There will be another time to discuss even more of the nuances inside what the Cowboys saw in Gregory out of Nebraska. For now, Gregory's long path back to The Star has him contributing as a first team defensive end at training camp, backing up this status with a high-effort preseason debut.
Without even hitting a quarterback yet, Gregory is a heartwarming story that the NFL — and the Cowboys from an outsiders point of view — could use more of.