Defensive end Randy Gregory walked off the field Thursday following the Dallas Cowboys’ final practice of training camp in Oxnard, Calif., with the look of excitement all over his face.
And it had nothing to do with coach Jason Garrett calling off the evening practice and meetings to take the team on a bonding trip to the beach.
After four days of practices, including a session on Wednesday with four sacks (“I had two in team and two or three in one-on-one but I’m not counting”), Gregory couldn’t stop smiling about what he’s accomplished so far and his expectations of playing in a game for real on Saturday when the Cowboys face the Cincinnati Bengals in the preseason home opener at AT&T Stadium.
The Cowboys have made no formal announcement and won’t until game time.
But Gregory believes he will play in a game for the first time since the 2016 season finale as the Cowboys continue to ramp up his return from an indefinite suspension for repeated violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
“If you guessed that you wouldn’t be wrong,” a coy Gregory said.
“It would be big for me,” he later added. “I am treating the game like any other game, preseason or not. I don’t consider myself safe on this team, by any means. I feel like I have a lot to prove. Going out there performing and performing well is my main goal. I will be ready to go, either way.”
Garrett and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli both acknowledge that Gregory’s return has gone as well as could be expected, if not better.
He still has those special pass rush skills that caused the Cowboys to chance a second-round pick on him in 2015 even though they knew he had issues with substance abuse in college at Nebraska.
The Cowboys have been deliberate about Gregory’s participation since the start of training camp, initially limiting him to conditioning drills before letting him go through walk-throughs on the grass last week and then getting him involved in full pad workouts the last four days.
The pinnacle came on Wednesday when he showed out with a plethora of sacks, including two against Pro Bowl tackle Tyron Smith.
“There is no question he has done a really nice job,” Garrett said. “He did a good job with his rehab. He had gone up against our No. 1 offensive line and held up well against the run and rushing the passer. So a lot of good things. He is going about the right way. We are excited about his progress.”
And he is excited about playing. It’s all over his face.