OXNARD, Calif. — On the night he was reinstated by the NFL, Randy Gregory was as excited as he was nervous.
Excited because he earned his way back on the field after convincing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell his substance-abuse problems were a thing of the past. Nervous because he was not sure how his teammates would react to him.
Availability and accountability are two major tenets in NFL life and Gregory missed 30 of the past 32 regular-season games because of multiple failed or missed tests.
“Obviously it’s a little bit different of a team,” Gregory said. “Some of the same guys are there and also I don’t know how I’ll be received, even though I think it’ll be good. I think I’ll be received pretty well.
“Those are things I worry about because I’m probably more of a hermit socially, so when I get in those situations, I don’t like it. It’ll be interesting to see when I’m around the other guys, get on the field, get back to learning plays.”
The Cowboys are giving Gregory time to readjust to football life. While they say he is in good conditioning — he weighed in at 242 pounds — he has not been around the team since the 2016 season finale. They don’t want him to do too much too soon and risk injury.
And the team’s reception has been positive.
In fact, his teammates’ feelings for Gregory played a part in Goodell opting to reinstate him when he did.
“Just incredibly proud of Randy,” Lee said. “The work he’s put in, we’ve always believed in him. For him to do what he’s done, I can’t wait to see him back on the football field, back doing what he loves, doing what he deserves to do. I know he’s put in a ton of work. He’s a talented football player too and really can help us. I can’t wait to get him back with us, working with us — I’m really proud of him.”
Said Heath: “So playing sports in general you see guys, lots of guys, who might be dealing with some issues, but they’re bad guys. You’re not rooting for them because they don’t want the help. They don’t want to get better. They’re just dumbasses. Those are the guys that you don’t kind of spend too much time on. Randy’s a little different to me. I’m obviously not a psychiatrist or anything, but I felt like Randy wanted to do right and he wanted to be a part of the team. He wanted to make people proud because he knows guys kind of put their necks out there for him and he doesn’t want to make them look dumb.”
Gregory said one of the things he missed most during his time away was defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli “yelling at me and smiling at the same time.” Marinelli said he believes his job is to coach the man first and the player second.
“Oh, he’s got my trust right now,” Marinelli said. “I just feel if I sense anything that I don’t trust him it’ll come out in my body language. Right now he’s got a 10 on his forehead, like every guy and I’m going to coach all of them to be special.”
Others might not be as ready to trust him. Trust is earned through actions, not just words. How Gregory works during his time acclimating himself to the team will matter to his teammates although maybe not as much as how he performs in games.
“That’s going to be something that he’s going to be having to constantly deal with,” Heath said. “I don’t think he’s ever going to earn everybody’s trust 100 percent. That’s something he’s going to have to work on throughout his career, but honestly that’s the same for everybody. You never really just earn everybody’s trust and then you’re done working on yourself.
“I think the guys who kind of go through life with that mentality, that they’re always trying to earn your trust, always trying to prove you right, those are the guys who end up being successful, in my opinion.”