The reason Randy Gregory fell down draft boards a year ago -- off-the-field issues -- is why Gregory will be forced to sit out the first four games of the upcoming season. Gregory, suspended for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, will have plenty to prove in his second season.
First on that list is avoiding failed drug tests and actually staying on the field. If he fails another test, he'll be banned for 10 games.
When Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett recently spoke about Gregory's maturity level, he indicated that the second-year pass rusher has improved in that regard since he joined the team. He also made it clear that Gregory "has a long way to go."
"Just in everything he does -- how he handles himself in meetings, in the walk-through, in the offseason program, on the practice field," Garrett said, per the Star-Telegram. "Again, it's a work in progress. He has gotten better. But he has a long way to go. A lot of guys have a long way to go."
Despite the noticeable improvement, it doesn't make Gregory's suspension any easier to swallow.
"Certainly, it's very disappointing," Garrett said. "There's no question about that. We made that abundantly clear with him, and he understands that more than anybody. But at some point, you have to say, 'OK, this is what happened; this is what the consequences are for that action; and now we're going to get to work. I've got to make sure it doesn't happen again, and I've got to get to work as a football player to become a better player with the opportunities I do have.' That's what our emphasis is with him and really with the rest of the guys."
Even if Gregory turns it around off the field, he'll also need to improve substantially on the field. He didn't sack a single quarterback last year. Considering the team will be without Greg Hardy next season, it'll need Gregory to turn into the type of player scouts labeled him to be when he was dominating college offensive linemen at Nebraska.
For the Cowboys, finding a pass rush is paramount. A year ago, the team ranked No. 25 with 31 sacks. Six of those sacks came via Hardy, and another eight belonged to DeMarcus Lawrence, who is facing his own four-game ban.
And if the Cowboys are still thinking Ezekiel Elliott -- a running back -- will somehow improve the defense, they're in for a startling discovery this fall when that logic proves to be faulty.