Cowboys DE Randy Gregory tests positive for COVID-19; what that means vs. Chargers

Jori Epstein

FRISCO, Texas — The Cowboys opened their season against the Buccaneers with a starter sidelined due to COVID-19.

They face the possibility of missing another first-team lineman when traveling to Los Angeles this week to face the Chargers.

Defensive end Randy Gregory tested positive for COVID-19 and was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Gregory is fully vaccinated and asymptomatic, a person with knowledge of his symptoms told USA TODAY Sports on Monday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation. “Trying to get back ASAP,” the person added.

Gregory cannot rejoin the team until he tests negative on consecutive COVID-19 tests, 24 hours apart while asymptomatic.

NFL WEEK 1:32 things we learned

WINNERS, LOSERS:Steelers strut their stuff in win over Bills

Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory (94) reacts after recovering the ball against the Buccaneers on Thursday.

Gregory started at right defensive end in the Cowboys’ 31-29 loss to the Buccaneers. He played in 57% of defensive snaps (37 snaps total), recovering a fumble forced by left defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. Gregory also pitched in on a second-quarter tackle of Leonard Fournette.

“I felt like we gave up too many explosive plays,” Gregory said from Raymond James Stadium after the game. “We turned over the ball, which is good, but we need to cut down on the explosive plays. We go out there with two minutes left, and we need to go out there and get a sack on them.

“We can’t let him go out there and pick us apart like that.”

Missing Gregory against the Chargers would position the Cowboys for an even steeper challenge.

Quarterback Justin Herbert, the 2020 offensive rookie of the year, threatens via different means. He doesn’t bring the decades of experience and processing to expedite his release, with which Tom Brady outdueled the Dallas pass rush. Herbert does possess both a powerful arm and athleticism to extend plays.

“This is a guy who can really rip the ball,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said Monday afternoon from Cowboys headquarters. “Outside the pocket, this is a player who can really create on the move, much like Dak does, where he gets outside and how he can rip the ball downfield. So when you have a player who can do that, it’s almost like defending two plays.”

Defenders must prime themselves to counter both a designed call and on-the-run movement for five, six, seven seconds, Quinn said.

“We’ve got to defend plays longer when you’re defending a quarterback like that,” Quinn said.

That additional effort has the possibility to wear on defensive linemen, so Quinn opts to employ a deep line rotation to keep his players fresh in the trenches. Without Gregory, the Cowboys would lose their key piece to complement Lawrence in pass-rush situations. Fourth-year pro Dorance Armstrong would be among the top candidates to start in Gregory’s place, with snaps also likely split between defensive ends Tarell Basham and Bradlee Anae.

Gregory’s status put a damper on the Cowboys’ announcement the team could now activate six-time Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin from the reserve/COVID-19 list. Martin, also vaccinated, had mild symptoms and did not clear protocol in time to face the Buccaneers. Backup swing man Connor McGovern started in Martin’s place. Martin and tackle Brandon Knight, who was initially announced as a high-risk close contact to Martin, rejoined the Cowboys’ active roster on Monday.

The Cowboys need the help after losing right tackle La’el Collins to a five-game suspension for violation of the league’s policy on substances of abuse. The team has yet to determine whether it will keep Martin at right guard with Ty Nsekhe or Terrence Steele at right tackle, or if Martin will kick out to right tackle alongside McGovern at right guard. Discussions about keeping players at their most natural positions versus suiting up the best five linemen simultaneously are ongoing.

“We’re used to being flexible with our game plans, with our approach to things,” offensive coordinator Kellen Moore said of losing Collins, who will next be eligible to play Oct. 31 in Minnesota unless he wins an appeal. “Being aware of whatever matchups may present itself through this game, hopefully put ourselves in a good situation.”

The Cowboys designated receiver Michael Gallup (calf strain) for injured reserve, sidelining him for at least three games.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein