Randy Gregory stays ‘neutral’ mentally to help Dallas Cowboys defense hit higher gear

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The Dallas Cowboys are without their best defensive lineman but that hasn’t kept the unit from keeping consistent pressure on quarterbacks.

Much of that credit during the team’s 4-1 start has been appropriately given to rookie linebacker Micah Parsons, who has spent time on the edge in DeMarcus Lawrence’s absence.

Another reason? The play of Randy Gregory, who is proving the long game the Cowboys’ front office played while he struggled with off-the-field substance issues was a wise move.

Parsons leads the Cowboys with 14 QB pressures, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com (which combines hurries, knockdowns and all sack plays), but Gregory is right behind him with 12, tied for 17th most in the league.

It has been a long road to this point for Gregory, who had only started one game before this season after joining the Cowboys in 2015.

“I feel like I can play with anybody. If I continue to go out there and prove that, I’ll be all right on that end,” Gregory said after Wednesday’s practice. “There’s parts of my game I’ve still got to work on. There’s part of my body that don’t feel right. Those things I’ve got to manage and work through. But my play on the field, I’m not really surprised about it. I think I’m going to trend upward. So I hope I can do that and continue to put pressure on the QB and take advantage of ways I know I can.”

Gregory’s emergence this season might have something to do with where he is mentally.

“Yeah, I would definitely say I’m in my best place and probably have my best understanding of my flaws and the things that I do well,” he 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’s in front of me, whether it’s good or bad. It’s always been a day to day thing with me, week to week. And [I’ve] done a pretty good job over the past two or three years and continue to do that.”

He’s been able to get his off-the-field life settled despite a massive coaching change with the Cowboys, including a new head coach and defensive coordinator. Gregory also credits them — specifically head coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn — for changing the culture around The Star.

“You guys feel it. We feel it. We talk about it a lot,” Gregory said of the changing vibe around the team when asked to explain how it happened. “Coaching changes, you know, obviously, Coach McCarthy being here for his second year. Things are probably settling in for him, I would imagine. Just getting the right personnel in there. Guys are stepping up [who] need to step up. We’ve got a lot of guys back from injury. We’ve got a lot of guys that are out, but we have a lot of key pieces I feel we didn’t have last year, and that’s helping out a lot.”

Now that he’s having consistent success on the field, Gregory said the hard part will be handling that success the right way.

“I feel like I handle failure decently. But I don’t handle success very well. With the success comes a lot of responsibility,” he said. 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. [Special teams coordinator] Bones [Fassel] and coach [Quinn] talk about staying neutral and never getting too 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.”

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