The process of ramping up defensive end Randy Gregory to playing football again took another step Saturday when participated in padded individual drills for the first time.
Gregory has not played since the end of the 2016 season because of repeated violations of the substance abuse policy.
He was reinstated before the start to training camp and the Cowboys have been deliberate in how they handled him for the first couple of weeks.
He spend much of the first week doing condition work before taking being allowed to take part in the walk-through portions of practice early last week.
The next steps are participating in full team drills and then possibly a preseason game. He will not play in the preseason home opener against the Cincinnati Bengals Saturday night.
“He has been here for a few weeks now,’‘ head coach Jason Garrett said. “He has worked very hard with our trainers and our strength guys on the side. He worked with coaches on the side. We felt this was our next step.
“He has a good condition base. He has good base of football movement. That is what we were trying to do with him on the side. You don’t want to say ‘run straight, run straight, run straight,’ then go play football. We have been trying to acclimate him to the metabolic work and the football movement to get him closer.’‘
Here are five other things to know from Saturday’s practice:
1. Linebacker Sean Lee took part in full team drills for the first time since the start of training camp. The Cowboys have been also been deliberate in their handling of Lee, who has missed 50 games in his career due to injuries and has never played a full 16.
So the Cowboys are managing him in practice to keep in hopes of maximizing his health during the season.
“I feel great,” Lee said. “I think it’s working. I will practice more and more every day. It’s tough you want out be out with your teammates. Camp is about building tighter. They want to make sure I keep things in perspective and stay health. I have had issues doing that in the past.”
2. Rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch didn’t many highlight plays in the preseason opener against the 49ers. Free-agent signee Joe Thomas was actually the linebacker that turned the most heads in the game with five tackles and an interception. But Vander Esch got on the highlight reel in practice on Saturday with an interception of quarterback Cooper Rush and then running the length of the field to return for a touchdown.
3. Most observers came away from Thursday preseason game excited about the play of rookie running back Bo Scarbrough, who had nine carries for 33 yards and a 1-yard touchdown. The bulk of the yards came on a 28-yard run. Scarbrough remains a long shot to make the Cowboys roster because he would be nothing more than the third back on the team behind Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith and must prove he play special teams. He has never been asked to run down and cover on special teams. Smith’s play against the 49ers was more noteworthy. He had 8 carries for 32 yards, including a 15-yard run on the second play of the game to help set the tone. Smith started for Elliott, who was held out for precautionary reasons, showed his growing patience as a runner.
“That’s something for him that he had to really learn,” coach Jason Garrett said. “That is why it’s important like the game the other night to give him carries, let him play in game action. And he will see it and learn from it.”
Smith was the third running back a year ago behind Elliott and Alfred Morris. He played a lot on special teams. He will not be asked to do as many special teams in 2018 as he will be the primary backup and third-down specialist.
4. The Cowboys will likely have to make some roster moves in the coming days to shore up the offensive line, receiver and safety position. Guard Marco Martin tore ligaments in his big toe and facing possible season ending surgery. Even if he doesn’t have surgery, he would be out a while. Receiver is a need in practice because Cole Beasley, Deonte Thompson and Noah Brown have been nursing strains that kept them out of the 49ers game and then Marchie Murdock suffured an injury in the game. Neither are expected to return to practice and play against the Bengals on Saturday. Their absences are taxing all the other receivers in camp and the team needs some fresh legs.
5. Dak Prescott completed 12 of 20 passes in team and seven on seven Saturday in practice. It was largely a mixed mag. He missed deep throws Michael Gallup and K.D. Cannon. He was sharp on slants to Allen Hurns and on a skinny post to Terrance Williams who climbed the ladder to make a nice catch. There was a disappointing turn goal line seven on seven when he completed 1 of 4 passes. He came back and 4-4 on the next round, highlighted by a nice diving catch from Lance Lenoir. His day ended with going 3-4 during a competitive team session. He was wide on a final throw to tight end Geoff Swaim on a fourth down to keep a possible game-winning drive alive.