If it's one thing Randy Gregory knows well, it's adversity. His latest bout with it came by way of COVID-19 earlier this season, but he returned to the field in explosive fashion -- going on to lead the team with five sacks in leading into Week 9. One of the few who left it all on the field in the embarrassing loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Gregory also sacrificed himself unknowingly -- faced with another adversity -- having suffered a calf strain that will cost him multiple weeks and forced the Dallas Cowboys to move him to injured reserve on Thursday.
The injury isn't deemed severe, sources tell CBS Sports, but is deemed "more severe than initially hoped", and he'll now miss at least three games going forward. Gregory is eligible to return on Dec. 2, in a primetime fight with the New Orleans Saints, and his return will be key in how the end of the Cowboys season fleshes out.
Having returned last week from a calf strain of his own, quarterback Dak Prescott had a message for Gregory.
"I just hold him he'll be fine," said Prescott. "I know the way Randy takes care of his body and handles his business. He'll get over [the injury], and we're going to support him."
The two-time Pro Bowler knows losing Gregory is a huge blow to the defense, however.
"Just for the defense -- guys know they have to step up," Prescott added. "That leaves an opportunity for some young guys to come in and make some big plays. I'm sure those guys are going to do exactly that."
He's exactly right, because the recipe for the Cowboys will be the younger class being asked by defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to come on even stronger than they already might've to this point. The most obvious will be rookie first-round pick Micah Parsons, who dropped back to linebacker after spending a couple of games at quasi defensive end following DeMarcus Lawrence heading to IR with a fracture in his foot, and will now take on more of those reps in the near future.
The only question is how much time will Parsons split between the two roles, and especially with linebacker Jabril Cox having suffered a season-ending torn ACL, and that answer will be provided by others who must step up -- quickly.
The biggest stroke of that highlighter rubs across the name of Chauncey Golston, a rookie third-round pick who fired out of the gate at minicamp/OTAs before missing all of training camp on the team's PUP (physically unable to perform) list. He returned to make his NFL debut in Week 3 and has mostly played above average -- flashing at times -- as he ramps up (again, he had no camp or preseason), but he now has six games under his belt and stands to see a huge uptick from the 30 defensive snaps (38%) he played against the Broncos.
Another name to keep an eye on is Dorance Armstrong, who mostly takes on the role opposite Gregory on the left end in the absence of DeMarcus Lawrence, but isn't a stranger to being asked to rush the right edge. From the veteran standpoint, a mix of Armstrong and Tarell Basham will blend with Golston to try and fill the massive void created by the injury to Gregory, and a peek at the practice squad also comes into play.
That's where Bradlee Anae sits, the former fifth-round pick (2020) having been released ahead of Week 9 and the re-signed to the practice squad once he cleared waivers. Anae might soon get another shot at the active roster, where he can get to work trying to make the coaching staff forget a critical in-game special teams penalty. Also sitting on the practice squad waiting for a shot on gameday is Breeland Speaks, who has yet to take a snap for the Cowboys in 2021, but whose odds to do so have now increased.
The anomaly of Week 9 notwithstanding, Quinn and the Cowboys have consistently found ways to overcome big personnel losses on the defensive side of the ball, but without Gregory and with Lawrence still a ways away from being ready, this is going to be their biggest test to date.
With Matt Ryan, Patrick Mahomes and Derek Carr up next, respectively, their No. 2 pencil better be sharpened.