“Just stay consistent in your approach… good things will happen.”
Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn could have been talking about anyone when he said that in his press conference a few days following the overtime win in New England. He could have been relaying the halftime message he gave to the entire Dallas defense as they found themselves behind in a game they were leading in nearly every statistical category.
But he was specifically referring to defensive end Randy Gregory.
That one-word motto, consistency, is a recurring theme in football that often gets dressed up as different catchphrases.
Put in the work.
Stack good days.
Just keep showing up.
The secret’s in the dirt.
However it’s worded, Gregory has applied that philosophy to his football career as well as his life off the field. He’s stayed consistent, battling through a string of suspensions that robbed him of almost three entire seasons in total, and now, as his coordinator understatedly puts it, good things are happening.
Like the team lead in sacks after six games despite missing one week on the Reserve/COVID list. And like the single highest grade of any defender across the league in Week 6, as determined by Pro Football Focus. Like a devastating, game-changing strip-sack of Patriots quarterback Mac Jones after what felt like multiple close calls where he nearly got home but didn’t quite make it.
But instead of getting frustrated, Gregory just got back to work.
But it wasn’t just Sunday. It’s what Quinn has seen from the 28-year-old veteran ever since arriving in Dallas.
“Sometimes games are just like that: You’re feeling it, you’re staying in the moment, but the plays aren’t coming to you,” Quinn explained. “Quite honestly, it’s one of the things I really respect and admire about Randy so far.”
Gregory had a relatively quiet season opener, logging one tackle and recovering a fumble. Then he missed Week 2 after testing positive for COVID-19. Since returning in Week 3, he’s been a force of nature on the defensive line. Not a lightning strike or a sudden volcanic eruption; more like a monsoon, the kind that just goes on and on and inevitably inflicts its damage over a prolonged time.
“First game back after he missed the Charger game,” Quinn recounted, “he played extremely hard against Philadelphia; he had some holding penalties but not the production. And the next game against Carolina, he did. Against the Giants: same effort, didn’t have the sacks. In this game, he did. So I think you’re not always going to have the production in every game. It would be nice to do that, but you’ve got to stay consistent in your approach.”
The Dallas DC says some players try too hard when the breaks aren’t falling their way. But putting up goose eggs in the box score in Week 3 and 5 didn’t alter Gregory’s methodology.
“Sometimes you can go to try to chase something and do something out of character: ‘Let me try something different, because I’m not getting it,’ Quinn explained. “But I thought over the last month, he’s been so consistently relentless and staying in the approach of doing what he’s doing. I think it’s a good example for all the players: some days, it just doesn’t come your way, by the nature of the call or the scheme they’re using. But if you stay consistent and you stay relentless, you have opportunities when they come. I think that’s one thing Randy has really learned through the course of this season: Just stay consistent in your approach, man, and good things will happen. He’s really done that.”
While Gregory’s approach has been consistent, don’t confuse that with even-keeled or mild-mannered. The Nebraska alum plays with a high motor and searing intensity, an edge he says he works hard to maintain. In fact, he readily admits to playing better when he’s angry.
“I usually do,” he told reporters after Sunday’s 35-29 win in Foxborough. “I know there’s like a fine line, and sometimes I have to be warned from the coaches and on the field from the referees [about] just not taking it too far. But I feel like when I get pissed off, I talk a little bit of some [expletive], I tend to play a little bit better. And the last few games, I have been trying to do that. I think it kind of helps me lock in.”
That attitude in a player can often manifest itself on the field as penalties or mental lapses, but Quinn isn’t asking Gregory to tone down his style of play.
“I like seeing it. I want to be right at the edge of the aggressive nature. I’m really impressed with him, the way that he’s gone about it. You don’t want to cross it and lose your poise, you don’t want to cross it and maybe get out of your game,” Quinn said. “Staying really consistent in your approach is not an easy thing to learn, but I thought, for him, the last four weeks have certainly proven that he’s able to stay in the process. That’s a really important part of him playing well, and I think he’s captured that.”
To the casual fan who only knows Gregory’s name for his suspensions, or to the outsider who assumes his checkered history makes him a troubled malcontent, his coaches holding him up now as the model of consistency may be a surprise. But the men who work with him day in and day out aren’t taken aback in the least.
“No, I don’t think surprise is the right word,” defensive line coach Aden Durde said this week. “I think Randy is what he is. Everything he has put in this year is kind of coming to fruition. He’s growing every week.”
Gregory is living up to the stratospheric potential that convinced the Cowboys front office to stick with him through his transgressions with the league’s substance abuse policy. Gregory served his time and worked on his mental health. He humbled himself along the way, even clocking in as an Amazon warehouse worker to support his family while he waited for his chance at redemption on the gridiron.
Now, despite his dominant start to the 2021 season, when asked about Gregory as a player, Jerry and Stephen Jones unfailingly talk first about Gregory as a person.
“I’ll start- which I always do with Randy- what an amazing job he’s done with himself as a person off the field,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones told 105.3 The Fan this week. “We all knew when he was coming out- and that’s why we took a gamble- what a great player he was and how much potential he had. You knew- you had a good feeling in there- that there was a great football player in there, but he had to obviously get some other things about his business straightened out. Certainly, hats off to him. He’s done that in spades. And now, obviously, his play on the field’s starting to show up as well. I think he’s exceeded all expectations in terms of his return. And no one deserves it more than he does. He’s very detailed in his work. He’s turned into a leader on this football team. He plays with a lot of energy, he plays hard, and he’s the type of football player you look to have on your football team.”
Playing hard is admirable. But it has to translate to tangible production in the stat-that world of the NFL. And now that’s coming for Gregory. But high sack totals aren’t enough for him; he’s analyzing his game on a deeper level to determine how he can keep up his consistent play, independent of how opposing offensive lines choose to combat him.
“I have, what, four sacks on the year, and two of those came on bull rushes,” Gregory noted. “I think I throw people off sometimes when I do that. I really feel I need to do better as far as edge rushing. I think I rely too much on my power now, speed-to-power. I think I need to do better as far as: early on, give them power, and then transition to edge rushes or countermoves throughout the course of the game. Obviously, it was kind of hard with them chipping almost every play, but we’ve got to work past that.”
Fine-tuning the weaknesses in his skill set to bring them up to the level of his biggest strengths. All in an effort to stay as consistent as possible, both between the whistles and away from the game.
Of all Randy Gregory’s superpowers, that mentality may be the most potent. Without it, as he and the Cowboys have seen in darker times over the years, his elite physical gifts hardly matter. But when that consistent mindset is there, it exponentially amplifies all his other skills.
“I think there are multiple things,” Durde said when asked what makes Gregory so special. “I think from a physical standpoint: his speed, his explosiveness, his length, his agility, he has the full package. I think as a person, I think him going through the process every week… kind of the way he comes to work every day, he builds his plan throughout the week, he understands his process now. I think, for him, he walks into the game feeling like he can take it over. And he does. He does a great job every week… [H]e doesn’t change production. He just comes to play. Plays, and whatever the outcome is is the outcome.”
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