IRVING, Texas — Randy Gregory glanced toward Dez Bryant’s locker several times, the new Dallas defensive end noting he didn’t think it was an accident his neighbor was an All-Pro receiver whose career started with off-the-field issues.
The Cowboys drafted Gregory despite a failed drug test and concerns about his maturity after making one of the most notable moves in free agency with pass rusher Greg Hardy despite his role in a domestic violence case.
Add the unique signing of La’el Collins after his draft was ruined by a police investigation that so far hasn’t turned up any involvement by the former LSU offensive lineman in the shooting death of a woman he knew. Dallas has an interesting locker room mix for coach Jason Garrett coming off an NFC East championship.
“I think the main thing is trying to keep all the baggage outside the locker room,” Gregory said Friday after his first workout in the rookie minicamp opener. “I think that’s what Dez has done. I think that’s what guys in my position have done that’s been in the past, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Garrett flourished in one of his biggest tests of keeping a team together three years ago when defensive tackle Josh Brent faced intoxication manslaughter charges in a car crash that killed teammate Jerry Brown.
Brent was another factor for locker room chemistry until Friday, when he retired for the second time since that accident.
The way Garrett handled the raw emotions back then was one of the reasons executive vice president Stephen Jones says “a lot” when asked how much Garrett’s presence has to do with bringing in players such as Hardy and Gregory. And keeping the likes of Brent.
“Has a great way with players. At the same time, he’s also very smart,” Jones said. “I think he allows you to go there a little bit. You can only do so much of that. I’m a big believer in that, when you end up spending too much time putting out fires rather than getting better.”
Gregory says he doesn’t plan to start any fires.
“We’ve got a good group of guys,” Gregory said. “Obviously haven’t been around the veterans a lot. I fully expect everyone to be able to cooperate and have fun together. I don’t think we have any bad characters here at all.”
Bryant had multiple off-the-field issues in his first two years, culminating in a domestic violence arrest over a dispute with his mother. But the gradual improvement in his behavior was aided by the presence of mentors and other guidelines designed to keep him out of trouble.
While the Cowboys have declined to be specific in Gregory’s case, they’ve made it clear from owner Jerry Jones on down that they will build a support system to help Gregory, who says he wants it.
There’s no indication of trouble with Collins, another potential first-rounder who fell to Dallas because word of a police probe just days before the draft — even though he wasn’t a suspect in the death of 29-year-old Brittney Mills last month.
But it does add another player with plenty to prove.
“I look at it like a lot of people passed up on me, whatever the case may be,” Collins said. “I understand. I get that. But now everybody has to face me. Everybody has to face this team, and they will feel it.”
There have been cases of troubled players who didn’t work out for Dallas, but there have been successes as well. The latest was linebacker Rolando McClain, who resurrected a disappointing career last season after sitting out a year, and has re-signed with the Cowboys.
But Jerry Jones is clear that it isn’t charity work.
“You’ve got to make sure it’s a significant enough gain and significant enough to the team, then I will do as great a job as I can,” Jones said. “I have never had a problem with any of the ones I have signed on to be a good associate with and be a good team member with because of how significant they are to everybody’s success around here.”
Garrett has already had a couple of issues with Hardy. The agent for second-year defensive lineman Davon Coleman acknowledged that the two exchanged words during the first week of the offseason program. Plus, Hardy drew criticism during the draft with a tweet that made a joking reference to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Garrett is undeterred.
“We talk a lot about football character and personal character,” Garrett said. “I think anybody who knows the guys on our team and understands the culture we’ve created here, understands that that’s an important thing for us. Our team is made up of those guys.”
There might be a few more tests than usual for a team stockpiling more talent than expected in hopes of making a Super Bowl run.