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Randy Gregory Back With Cowboys; Examining His Impact As Suspension Still Looms

Gregory improved in his second game back against the Eagles on after an up and down performance last week against the Lions.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Randy Gregory is back with the Cowboys after meeting with the NFL in an appeal of his looming suspension. Gregory is facing a possible year-long suspension, but won’t know officially about when that might start until Roger Goodell notifies him and the team. The Cowboys are probably hoping the NFL will wait until the post-season is over so they can decide whether to use him in the playoffs.

Right around this time last week, after the Lions game, there was a questions as to whether or not Randy Gregory had shown enough to warrant being on the 45-man roster in the playoffs, perhaps over a Jack Crawford or a healthy (somewhat?) DeMarcus Lawrence. He needed to show more against the Eagles than he did against the Lions to consider playing a guy who will have only seen action in two games in a calendar year, on top of missing almost all of training camp and the preseason, in a one-and-done type of format over a reliable depth piece in Crawford and a much more proven edge rusher in Lawrence. Following his performance in Philadelphia, I can say that it should be under much stronger consideration. Let’s take a look.

The main thing that jumped off the screen was Gregory’s speed, you saw it flash last week against the Lions but it was much more consistent against the Eagles. Take this play for example:

Gregory TFL

At first glance it looks like Gregory, on the right side of the screen, simply goes through unblocked due to a busted assignment. But when you look closer you can see that the tight end lined up the furthest outside (#86-Zach Ertz) immediately moves in his direction while the tight end lined up directly in front of Gregory (#87-Brent Celek) pulls across the formation. The left tackle (#71-Jason Peters) blocks down on David Irving, before looking back out to help Ertz with Gregory once he sees that Irving is mostly neutralized. There is a split second between when Peters looks to block down on Irving and then looks back to Gregory, but with Gregory’s speed that was more than enough for him to blow by Ertz’s attempt at a reach block. This wasn’t a busted assignment, a poor effort by Ertz perhaps, but it’s Gregory’s speed that makes this play, not a mistake by the Eagles necessarily. The burst and suddenness of Gregory is electric here.

It wasn’t just Gregory’s speed that was impressive, he also showed some power on this play where he sheds the tight end, this time Celek, and works back to drop the running back for a short gain on the left side of the screen:

Gregory Sheds the Tight End

It must be noted that Celek is a very well-respected run blocker in Philadelphia but Gregory does a really nice job of shedding him and getting back outside to make the tackle. He definitely over-pursued here to an extent, which is something you see out of him a decent amount of the time as he really relies on his speed, but all in all it’s an impressive play.

Here are two other plays that really illustrate how quick and explosive he looked on Sunday:

Gregory Tracks Down Sproles

Again on the left side of the screen you can see Gregory shoot the gap inside of the left tackle, but just marvel at the speed it takes as he traces his steps back to bring down Darren Sproles. That’s one of the most elusive open-field runners in the league that Gregory is able to track down from behind after Sproles already had a several yard head-start. Not only that, but the ferociousness with which he makes the tackle is evident. I don’t know about you, but seeing that explosiveness with a 94 on the jersey looks exactly like DeMarcus Ware circa 2010 to me, for one play at least.

Here is another very similar display, this time the ball-carrier is Byron Marshall, a less elusive player than Sproles but he is still considered a receiving, “space” type of back with speed:

Gregory Tracks Down Marshall

Again on the left side of the screen, it’s almost a carbon copy of the previous play. This was called back due to a holding penalty on the Eagles but again it clearly demonstrates Gregory’s speed, that he’s hustling, and considering the fact that this play came in the fourth quarter, it shows that he must be in decent shape when you note that his workload almost doubled compared to last week as he played a total of 43 snaps vs. 23 against Detroit.

And now for the cherry on top, Gregory’s first career sack:

Gregory’s First NFL Sack

Nothing special here as far as technique, but you see the hustle here with how he is cut-blocked by Peters, he gets up instantly, and then shows great closing speed to get to the quarterback in a flash. This play is sort of a microcosm of Gregory’s game right now, you don’t really see any type of advanced technique or pass-rush moves, but what is clear as day is that Gregory has tremendous physical traits as far as speed and explosiveness off the snap, and he is hustling and playing with a great motor.

That is about what you’d expect from a player who has had extremely limited time working with the coaches on technique, and that he has barely received any live reps in the last calendar year to hone his craft. With that said, the potential that nearly made Gregory a top-10 pick in 2015 if not for his off-the-field issues, and that enticed the Cowboys to roll the dice at the end of the second round, is clearly still there. If he could somehow just stay on the field, keep his head on straight, and take to the coaching of Rod Marinelli, there is no ceiling to what Gregory could be for the Cowboys.

Now let’s see what the next few days hold after Gregory’s appeal of his one-year suspension. Even if the suspension is nullified, it’s still not a guarantee in my mind that he should be active in 11 days when the Cowboys host a Divisional round playoff game, but let’s all hope that we won’t have to wait until 2018 to see him flash this type of potential again.

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