The Grateful Cowboy
OXNARD, Calif. — Mr. Risky is fitting in just fine with the Dallas Cowboys, thank you. Smiling, attentive and in the right places during a Tuesday morning walk-through practice at Cowboys camp, rookie defensive end Randy Gregory, who thought he’d be picked around number six in the draft four months ago but ended up going number 60, has given the coaching staff here more than it bargained for.
Gregory, of course, had substance-abuse issues at Nebraska and failed a drug test at the NFL combine; those and other off-field concerns pushed his draft stock to late round two. But even if he had entered the league with no non-football issues, it’s likely most teams would have considered the 245-pound Gregory a designated pass-rusher type and not a three-down defensive end or outside linebacker. That’s part of the surprise here. The Cowboys think if he bulks up and can stay around 258 or 260, he’ll be a good-enough run-defender to stay in the game on first downs.
He had a quick-twitch-move sack against the Chargers in the first preseason game over the weekend. And in a pass-rush drill against the Rams—who are visiting Oxnard for dual practices this week—Gregory again showed his precociousness and ability to contribute early. When St. Louis franchise left tackle Greg Robinson moved to block Gregory to the left and push him too far outside to get to the quarterback, Gregory spun around and exploded into the gap to Robinson’s left, leaving the Ram tackle blocking air.
And you've probably seen the video by now of Gregory's involvement in the Rams-Cowboys brawl Tuesday afternoon, including Gregory getting blindsided by Rams tight end Jared Cook during one of the scrums, but don't try to divine any meaning from it. There is none.
Already in camp, hard-to-impress defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has said Gregory can be a three-down defensive end in the Dallas 4-3 scheme. And on Tuesday afternoon, coach Jason Garrett echoed that—with conditions. “We believe he can be more than just that [a pass-rusher],” Garrett told me. “You look at guys who came into the league with that body type—Jason Taylor, Charles Haley, Michael Strahan early, DeMarcus Ware—and every one of those guys turned out to be able to play the run pretty well. It’s early, but Randy shows signs of that too.”
To watch Gregory move on the field is to watch a slithery target. It’s hard to get a direct block on him. “Gumby qualities,” said Garrett. “He’s cat-like.”
“I have a basketball background,” Gregory said after the morning practice, “so I’m used to being in a two-point stance and a more athletic stance, I always felt like I was a better pass rusher with my hand in the dirt [as a 4-3 end]. I played four years of college doing that so I definitely feel like that’s helped me out at this level.”
What helps, too, is the fact that he’s taken to hard coaching. The defensive staff has been tough on Gregory, as it is with all young players, and those who have watched practice say Gregory has responded with hard work. One day, Marinelli called Gregory in front of the defensive linemen and had him demonstrate how to use his hands with quickness and strength, because Marinelli was impressed with what he saw as veteran pass-rush moves from Gregory. “The one thing I pride myself in,” said Gregory, “is hand speed and hand movement and hand placement. He’s a critical coach, so it’s always nice to get something good out of him. That made me feel good.”
In the 16 weeks since the draft, the Cowboys have put a support system in place for Gregory, and a club source said Tuesday there have been no substantive missteps. But Gregory knows staying away from marijuana and other off-field distractions is up to him.
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“It starts and ends with me,” Gregory said. “I know the Cowboys want to do their part and I asked for a certain level of help from them but I also believe that it starts with me and ends with me. Whether I want to do the best I can and embrace the opportunity, that’s ultimately my job.
“To be honest, it’s not real hard. Stay out of trouble, focus on football, and that’s what I’ve been doing. Coach has been doing a good job of keeping me focused, and I think I’ve done a good job myself staying focused, and the closer to the season it gets, the better I will get. It’s something I’m not really worried about handling. I really want to be a great player.”
One Cowboys official told me the model for Gregory is Jason Taylor—a small-forward type with quickness and deceiving strength. “I’ve always felt I have real good strength for my size,” Gregory said. “I think a lot of guys look at me and they think long and rangy, but I think I have a lot of strength for my size. Obviously putting on weight is going to help, but I feel like the weight is more for mass, not getting pushed around as much, rather than being able to push somebody off. Adding the weight is only going to help me more.”
The one impressive thing about Gregory off the field, this Cowboys official said, is he hasn’t blamed anyone for his precipitous drop in the draft. As Gregory said: “I honestly feel like, you know, I wouldn’t say I was bitter, but I think I carry a bit of a chip on my shoulder now. I realize I put myself in that position so I dug my own grave with that, but at the same time, I’m grateful.”
Asked about what his goals are for his rookie year, Gregory swam around the question like he deked the Rams’ Robinson on the practice field. “Coach Garrett always preaches, ‘Distinguish yourself with play and not what you say,’ ” said Gregory. “I’m never the one to come out and say I’m going to do this and that, but I’ll show it out on the field.” Look for Dallas to use him with the nickel unit early, likely at right end, and after that, he’ll earn his time based on his play.
On to your email.
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ON RAY FARMER’S SUSPENSION
What is the impact of the GM missing the first four weeks of the regular season? Wouldn’t a more severe suspension for a GM be during the NFL draft or during preseason when it comes time for roster cuts?
Yes, suspending a general manager for four weeks before the draft would be quite severe, much more severe than this penalty. But in that case, would the penalty really fit the crime? The general manager texted some suggestions to a coach. For that infraction, should you take the steward of a franchise and the overseer of the draft away from the event he has been preparing for all year? I understand your point. You think the NFL should really hit the Browns where it would hurt. I just don’t think that removing a general manager at what would be the two most important times of the year is very fair for a penalty of this type.
PLACEMENT OF THE PAT
I was watching a little bit of preseason football this weekend and noticed one thing that piqued my interest. After the Niners' lone TD, Phil Dawson setup to kick the extra point from the left hash. Is that something the team gets to choose where they line up? Or is this somehow related to where the touchdown was scored, similar to how any regular play ends? I think it would be an interesting wrinkle if it was the latter and how it could affect play calling strategies close to the goal line, especially late. We are accustomed to seeing an additional play run prior to a late FG to put the spot of the ball where the kicker likes it best.
—Logan, Sterling, Va.
The teams can choose where they want the ball placed before the PAT. I don’t believe that the competitive advantage or disadvantage is really changed all that much by this. I think it is more of a feel for each kicker.
PENALTY FOR A PUNCH
From MMQB this week: “I think if you’re wondering about the sanction awaiting Enemkpali by the NFL, well, I wouldn’t count on him being in a Bills uniform for the first couple of weeks.” So if you punch someone in the mouth and break his jaw, it’s worth a couple weeks, but if maybe you knew about letting air out of a football, it’s four games? I don’t get it, and neither does anyone else in New England. The longer this goes on, the more it looks like the owners are pushing for more parity in the NFL. Nothing else makes sense here.
I don’t believe the evidence I heard justifies sanctioning New England obviously. But whenever penalties are compared, it always seems unfair. We don’t know what Enemkpali’s league-issued sanction is going to be. I assume it would be a minimum of a game or two for such a violent act. But we can't start comparing sanctions—whether it be Greg Hardy or Ray Rice or IK Enemkpali or Tom Brady—because all of these situations are different. Some involve domestic violence. Some involve competitive game situations. I don’t get particularly outraged by the comparison between a competitive situation and a sanction pertaining to violence on another person. I think all of them should be considered separately.
NO CRIMINAL CHARGES FOR IK?
I find it curious the conversation about IK Enemkpali has not discussed his criminal act. In Canada, this would have clearly dictated a prima facie case of assault causing bodily harm and would have triggered a criminal investigation at minimum and a high probability of criminal charges. His actions were clearly outside the implied consent of physical contact within the confines of the game. Why no criminal charges? Why no suspension by the NFL?
I agree with you. But in the area of New Jersey where this happened, the police said it was a dispute between two individuals, and Geno Smith would have to choose to press charges against Enemkpali for authorities to get involved. In that way, the police are saying they treat this the same way they treat a fight in a bar. Even if someone is injured, police would only get involved if the injured party chose to press charges. I would be more comfortable with the Canadian way because you don’t go around in our society punching people in the jaw regardless of the provocation. But it is going to be up to Smith to determine whether he pushes this forward.
CHIP KELLY ARGUMENT
Peter King uses Chip Kelly's personnel decisions to show that the charges of racism alleged by former Philadelphia Eagles' players are off base. However, Peter King, as a Euro-American male, does not understand the multiple ways in which racism can be expressed and felt by victims. Players have stated that Chip Kelly is not a fan of hip-hop culture and certain types of style and personality that are associated with black urban culture. Players may feel that Chip Kelly's personal disdain for this type of urban style and "swagger" is racist because Kelly, as a white man, does not attempt to understand or relate to these players. This means that even though Kelly employs black players, the unwritten rule is that, in many cases, players cannot be themselves, especially when it comes to embracing the culture of their youth. What I am trying to say is that Chip Kelly can still choose and recruit black players and be racist, something that King does not seem to understand.
—Aaron, Nashville, Tenn.
You’re right. He could have the track record he has and privately be a raving racist or homophobe or misogynist. Here is my question: Where is the evidence that he has committed a racist act or said something inside the team that was racist or said something out in public that was racist or indicated in any way by his actions or words a racist bent? What has happened to Kelly in my opinion is like what happens to a person who gets a reputation based on either a whisper campaign or unsubstantiated charges, the likes of which I feel he has been subjected to with the Eagles. I don’t recall anyone in Oregon, in reading about him coming into the NFL, having a problem or treating black players differently from white players. In my opinion, if there is some real evidence that a person is racist, it is well worth being taken seriously. I haven’t seen that with Kelly. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist; what I am saying is when something as serious as this is brought up, I believe that evidence is needed before we start labeling a guy in such an inflammatory and derogatory way.
NO MORE PARTICIPATION TROPHIES?
I know the Instagram quote from James Harrison might seem harsh to some, but I totally agree with him. I have two kids who play sports, and I've coached kids’ sports over the last few years. With these participation trophies being handed out for just showing up, I'm not sure how the kids are supposed to know what went well and what needs improvement with their skills. I'm 40 years old, but I suppose I'm a little more of a throwback parent. I want my children to earn what they receive; sports or not, this is how life shapes you. You have to understand how to improve and what goals you are striving for. The goal is not to just show up.
—Jerry, Wilmington, Del.
I think the issue is overblown. I coached girls softball in Montclair, N.J., for 17 years and we gave out trophies to every kid at the end of every season. Each trophy was specific to each player. “Best bunter,” or “Most valuable infielder,” or “Clutch player” or “Best team player.” Every player got one, and sometimes it was hard to think of awards for all. But we managed. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong. I doubt that giving out a participation trophy damages people or gives them a false sense of accomplishment.
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