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Becoming ‘relentless’: Cowboys DE Randy Gregory stacks success with mental approach

Gregory has improved the mental side of his game, and that progress has translated on the field.

FRISCO — Overcoming adversity was never the issue for Randy Gregory.

Not the main one.

For years, the Cowboys defensive end has been vocal about his own mental health, which included at times a low sense of self-worth. Where an objective obstacle for athletes might be an injury, in-game error or fourth-quarter deficit, for someone who thinks little of himself, it can be regard or adulation.

The world tells a person he is one thing. He is convinced he is another.

He must navigate the cognitive dissonance.

“I feel like I handle failure decently, but I don’t handle success very well,” Gregory said this month. “With the success comes a lot of responsibility, things like that. That’s one of the things I always struggled with growing up, and still to this day, I have my issues with that. We talk about staying neutral … and never getting overly cocky or too negative about yourself and having a neutral mindset.

“I think that’s what you have to do when you’re experiencing failure and success. I think that’s how you grow.”

Gregory is giving himself lots of practice.

The Cowboys are on a five-game winning streak, and for the first time in several years, they have the look of a Super Bowl contender. But if a bye week offers a chance for reflection, arguably most impressive to all this is Gregory, a man whose personal progress from social anxiety, substance abuse and suspensions unlocked the ability to amass a remarkable four-week run.

Gregory has played 15 games since returning from a suspension in 2020 after playing 16 games the previous four years combined. For the Cowboys, Gregory was worth the wait.

The 28-year-old missed the team’s Week 2 win over the Los Angeles Chargers with COVID-19.

He drew three offensive holding penalties in his first game back against the Philadelphia Eagles. He twice sacked Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold the next week. He dominated New York Giants tackle Nate Solder all afternoon the following game, his final quarterback pressure likely contributing to an interception for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

Then, there was last week.

He drew another holding call, this one to negate a long touchdown during the second quarter. Gillette Stadium had to stop celebrating. New England Patriots offensive players had to return to their huddle.

Gregory didn’t have to keep coming. He did.

On the very next play, he strip-sacked Mac Jones, and Dallas recovered. What would have been a 14-point deficit became a four-point one after a Greg Zuerlein field goal. Gregory later added a second sack to force a three-and-out on the Patriots’ opening drive of the third quarter.

Fair to say, Gregory has improved at handling success.

It is no coincidence that the finest football of his football career comes at a time when Gregory says that he is in the best place mentally that he’s been. That adds another layer to appreciating his on-field success.

“I probably have my best understanding of my flaws and the things that I do well,” Gregory said. “I say it all the time: I still make a lot of mistakes. I really do, but I don’t get too far out of touch with reality and what it’s in front of me, whether it’s good or bad. And yeah, it’s always been a day-to-day thing with me, week to week. I’ve done a pretty good job over the past two or three years and continue to do that.”

There is a word that defensive coordinator Dan Quinn often uses for Gregory.

Relentless.

It applies not only to how Gregory attacks an offense throughout the game but also how Gregory prepares throughout a week. He recorded no sacks against the Eagles but kept going. He recorded no sacks against the Giants but kept coming.

Gregory is in a contract year.

He understands how important a sack total can be.

But he doesn’t allow the output to determine his process. As Gregory said, he stays neutral, which is a phrase that Cowboys mental conditioning coach Chad Bohling effectively coined when working with the team this season. Don’t get too high. Don’t get too low. Stay neutral.

As much as anyone, Gregory embodies it.

“I thought over the last month, he’s been so relentless staying in the approach of doing what he’s doing,” Quinn said. “It’s a good example for all the players that 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.

“That’s one thing I think Randy has really learned during the course of this season: Just stay consistent in your approach, man, and good things will happen.”

Gregory is ready to experience success.

He deserves every bit of it.

Find more Cowboys coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.

In This Story

Michael Gehlken. Michael Gehlken joined the Cowboys beat for the Dallas Morning News in August 2019. This marks his 12th season covering the NFL, previously having reported on the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders.

michael.gehlken@dallasnews.com GehlkenNFL
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