FRISCO, Texas — As he stepped toward the blocking sled Friday, the sound of metal on metal made a screeching noise Micah Parsons has been used to hearing ever since he started playing football, but it had been a long time since he heard it.
“Last time I hit a sled?” the Dallas Cowboys‘ rookie linebacker asked himself, repeating the question as the thoughts went through his head. “Cotton Bowl practice.”
That was the 2019 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium, when Penn State beat Memphis on Dec. 28. Figure it was a few days earlier than that game when Parsons last punched the sled with any kind of ferocity.
“The first rep we got the rust off,” Parsons said. “The second rep was like, ‘I’m back now. That is how it is.’ We just wiped the dust off.”
Parsons opted out of the 2020 season, focusing on the 2021 NFL draft as the coronavirus pandemic nearly ended the college football season.
Despite not playing in a year, Parsons was drafted by the Cowboys at No. 12 overall in part because of how well he played in that Cotton Bowl — 13 tackles, two sacks, three pressures in 79 snaps (all career highs) as well as a forced fumble — and his versatility, which made him one of the top prospects available.
Parsons’ job now is to get accustomed to football after a layoff, while learning a new team, defense, playbook and city. He will work primarily at middle linebacker.
“They wouldn’t move me there if they didn’t have a need at Mike,” Parsons said. “Mike linebacker, you get a chance to force. You get to be a Rambo player. You can match up on running backs. You get a chance to play in the box. That is what I do best. You watch what I did in college, I was able to go sideline to sideline. I can go both ways, always be around the ball. They know that is what I do best. I am excited to start there.”
But it won’t be his only position.
“The thing that I see from the linebacking crew, uniquely, is pressure,” Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “Pressure. We know that Jaylon [Smith] can get some pressure, but I could see that group really being a big part of the plan to pressure. Generally, that was the key thing that we were looking at as far as the fit for us, weighing the pressure perspective.”
Parsons, who will turn 22 on May 26, was the Cowboys’ top-rated defensive player on their draft board, ranked fourth overall. He had 6.5 sacks at Penn State.
“There are third-down packages I am going to be in,” he said. “On first and second down, I am going to be in the box. On third down, they are going to find a way to get me to the quarterback, which I am excited about. I think [Dan Quinn] is a great coordinator. One of the best ones. He gets his best players on the field and [in] position to make plays and I have full faith in him.”
First day out !! Felt amazing to be back in that blue and white! It’s going to be special here! 💙 https://t.co/slt0lXUobF
— Micah Parsons (@MicahhParsons11) May 14, 2021
With the Green Bay Packers, coach Mike McCarthy had two first-round linebackers contribute right away. In 2006, A.J. Hawk, the No. 5 overall pick, had two interceptions, seven pass deflections, one forced fumble and 3.5 sacks. In 2009, Clay Matthews, the No. 26 overall pick, was named to the Pro Bowl after recording 10 sacks.
McCarthy said how much the coaches put on a player is “an individual situation,” but during the evaluation process, the scouts and coaches want to make sure a player can do at least two jobs. Since 2006, NFL defenses have evolved in which there are more packages available to defenses and players with specific roles.
“The most important thing is to get him grounded into the inside, both the Mike and the Will [weak-side linebacker], starting with the communication responsibility,” McCarthy said.
Parsons is not even a week into his first time stepping on the practice field at The Star, but he is not worried about having too much to learn. With so much downtime after workouts and practice, he spends about an hour every night going over his playbook and film.
“It’s the same coverages, different terminology. That just comes with football IQ. You’ve got to be a smart football player,” Parsons said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a lot. I’m just learning how they reference their plays and a bunch of their adjustments. … Penn State ran a lot of similar plays to them. They just got different names to them and different adjustments. That’s all it is, and I think the coaches are doing a great job in catching me up and getting me ready.”