Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory is inching toward his on-field return, and spoke with media on Monday for the first time since his year-long suspension kept him sidelined for all of 2017.
"I think the last few weeks have been really fun," Gregory said. "The days and months leading up to this have been pretty emotional. I think I've learned to handle my emotions better than in the past. A lot of ups and downs. Definitely the last few weeks have been a fun experience, just being able to get back out here with my teammates."
The Cowboys drafted Gregory in the second round in 2015, but multiple violations of the NFL's substance abuse policy have so far derailed a potentially very promising career. There was a point when even Gregory thought he would never return to the NFL.
"If I'm being honest, yeah. I think at my lowest point I felt that way. Obviously there was a chance I would play again if I did the right thing. But just looking at everything that was mapped out, as far as what I needed to do and what I had going on in my life at the time, it was hard for me to say I really thought I was going to be back."
The NFL reinstated Gregory in July, and since then he's been taking the necessary steps on and off the field to get himself ready for the regular season opener.
"I got a good schedule," Gregory said. "Got around the right people. Therapy always has helped. Just staying consistent with that. Healthy dose of medication and being able to realize what I have on my plate and my priorities and being happy, not only with what I'm doing but with myself internally, has been the biggest thing."
Gregory took two notable steps over the weekend. He padded up for individual drills Saturday and then participated in 11-on-11 work Sunday. Jerry Jones said he expects Gregory will be ready to contribute week 1 at Carolina.
"Everyone here is rooting for him. He doesn't want any slack," said Jones. "I know he sees the care that everyone has for him. I did notice some of his trademark skill on a couple snaps [Sunday]."
The Cowboys have always supported Gregory, something he is very thankful for.
"I think they believe in me," Gregory said. "First and foremost they like me not only as a player, but a person, and I've always tried to do the right thing. I know I always haven't, but I've tried. I think they realize I was a person in need and sticking by me throughout that tough part and even now has been really important for me to get back, and I think it's worked."
Gregory was asked Monday if he's been diagnosed as bi-polar. He declined to answer, calling it a "private matter," but did open up about the stigma associated with mental health issues.
"Obviously what I've been known to get in trouble for is the marijuana issue and substance abuse, so that's what will stick with the media and fans and things like that. But I want everyone to realize there is more to it and there is a stigma behind it and it's not just somebody walking around carelessly doing what they want. There's obviously a mental aspect to it that I've tried to figure out. The moment I took a more serious approach to that with my therapy and the more people around me understood what I was going through mentally, I think it made it a lot easier for me to get right."