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Micah Parsons says missing Cowboys’ offseason program is his ‘style,’ explains how he makes it work

USATSI

FRISCO, Texas — It’s been just over 22 years since Hall of Famer Allen Iverson’s unforgettable rant about attending practice

Three-time All-Pro edge rusher Micah Parsons‘ chat with local media at mandatory minicamp on Tuesday took a turn in the Iversonian direction when he was asked about why he hadn’t attended the Dallas Cowboys‘ offseason program up until the minicamp portion. Last season, he spent a part of OTAs training in Austin. This offseason, he has missed part of OTAs to undergo boxing training locally in North Texas. 

“There was a time where Aaron Donald didn’t even go to (training) camp [2017 and 2018] and he won Defensive Player of the Year and then (the Rams) went to the playoffs,” Parsons said. “Like, are we forgetting these times? Like we wasn’t talking about the best defensive player wasn’t even in camp. We’re in minicamps. Voluntary at that. So you know, (mini)camp was something that is mandatory. So, I’m just looking at it as a time for my body to heal. I’m playing as an undersized rusher who is banged up every year. So I’m just letting my body heal. I’m just trying to grow, strengthen, and really just get ready for the year.”

Parsons comparing himself to the recently retired Donald, who won two of his three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards in seasons that he skipped training camp because of a contract holdout (2017 and 2018), may sound blasphemous on its face, but he has the early resume to back up the comparison. 

He is one of only five players — Hall of Famers Reggie White, Derrick Thomas, Dwight Freeney and also Aldon Smith — since sacks became an official statistic in 1982 to rack up at least 40 (40.5) in his first three NFL seasons. Parsons reached new heights in Year 3 in 2023 by leading the league in quarterback pressures (103), quarterback pressure rate (21.8%) and pass-rush win rate (35.3%). He also accumulated a career-high 14.0 sacks, tied with 2023 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Myles Garrett for the seventh-most in the league. Parsons accomplished all of this while being double-teamed on 35% of his pass rushes last season, the most in the NFL among edge players, per the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. There wasn’t another edge rusher in the NFL who was double-teamed at a rate of 30% or higher in 2023. 

That resume is one of the reasons why Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy called Parsons’ absence at OTAs on May 30 “an opportunity that’s been missed.” Parsons’ presence elevates the quality of the work Dallas can achieve in practice on both offense and defense when he is present. 

“It’s 360,” McCarthy said Tuesday at mandatory minicamp when asked about Parsons’ effect on both his offensive and defensive teammates when he is in practice. “We talked about it this morning in the offensive meeting. He’s a multiple position player. Is he a linebacker? Is he the open end? Is he the wide nine? Those types of things are great work for the offense from a recognition standpoint. We’re not in game plan mode making those type of protection adjustments, but this gets you as close to real game situations as possible. Obviously, the most important thing is where he is going to line up and how that affects the other guys (on defense). So any time with the multiple position players, it creates a lot of opportunities for the others.”

Parsons had the opportunity to travel the world with Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud earlier this offseason, traveling across Asia to both China and Japan as ambassadors to grow the game of football. 

“We have camps and all that. We did camps all across Europe, but this year, we did it all across (Asia). We did one in Shanghai, China, and we had a big one in Tokyo,” Parsons said. … “We’re just trying to spread the game of football, and there’s a lot of kids whose parents are in the Army, so it’s good for them to see us. Their experience is great because obviously football is not so big down there. I think it was always an amazing opportunity to do that.”

One of the things Parsons was able to pick up on during his transcontinental travel was sumo wrestling, which allowed him to learn new tips and tricks to gain leverage on an opponent. 

“Sumo (wrestling) is legit,” Parsons said. “At first I was like ‘man, I’m going to do that.’ I’m going to hop in there, and they have tiers. The tier that I had, you could put it like as if, the kid was like 17, so he was in high school really. …  Imagine a 0-tech and a center doing an Oklahoma drill every play without pads. It’s so violent. It’s a walking concussion. … Sumo wrestling is completely different. Their technique and style is so mind-boggling. There were a couple things that I just failed completely. Very challenging. My legs were shaking. I was like, ‘I need to do more legs, do legs every day.’ Hitting them is like a brick wall. … I’m recruiting as we speak (to be a zero-tech/nose tackle).”

New Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer joked that Parsons “could have done that with me probably” in early May. While Zimmer made that remark in jest, there lies a bit of truth: another reason McCarthy called Parsons missing OTAs “an opportunity that’s been missed” is because Parsons missed some time to be in-person with teammates during the early installs of Zimmer’s scheme, which will have some difference from the one former defensive coordinator and now Washington Commanders coach Dan Quinn ran the last three seasons in Dallas. The three-time All-Pro called missing the voluntary portion of the Cowboys’ offseason program “his style” while claiming he has still been able to get up to speed with what Zimmer is running anyways through chats with talks with defensive run game coordinator Paul Guenther. Guenther worked under Zimmer with the Cincinnati Bengals (2008-2013) and the Minnesota Vikings (2021). 

“That’s always been my style. I haven’t really been here [for OTAs] since my rookie season,” Parsons said. “I don’t think it’s anything new. I always had my own way of doing things, and defense is defense. I’m pretty much caught up with everything. Paul [Guenther] was meeting up with me, the run game coordinator.  I really wasn’t missing anything. I feel like I was getting better, getting stronger, faster. Just doing things, what Micah does in the offseason: wrestling sumos. I just have fun.”

The real rationale Parsons has for playing hooky from the offseason is in the name of preserving his health.  

“Yeah, you know, I think the more years you have, the more you understand that there’s also like the business side to it,” Parsons said. …Your body, this is all I have. This is all I have to offer the Cowboys. Before you sign a contract, you go through a physical. Before you do anything. Before you’re even on a team, you have to go through a physical (at the NFL Scouting Combine). This is your engine. This is where my equity lies. I have no equity outside of this to offer them. At the end, you have to understand availability is the  best ability. If I’m not available when it really matters because I’m banged up or my body’s not healing properly or I didn’t get all the rehab and treatment that I need to be successful, then you know that’s on me. That’s not on them (the Cowboys). They’ll just find the next me.”

One of the consequences and missed opportunities of Parsons opting out of the voluntary parts of the offseason program is missing out on building a relationship with Zimmer, some who Parsons has said “a total of 20 words with” since his hiring in February. That lack of relationship is likely why Parsons believes he and Zimmer, who acknowledged having the reputation of being a jerk at his introductory press conference because of his intensity, will be willing to compromise on his play style in the 2024 season.

“Honestly, me and Zim have probably said a total of 20 words together,” Parsons said. “He’s a very quiet person. All I keep hearing from the coaches, ‘Zim likes it this way.’ Well, I like it this way. So I can’t wait to sit down with him because that would be pretty cool. Obviously, old school mindset, old school mentality. You know I think he’s had a lot of great players but he ain’t ever had a Micah before. So it’ll be fun. I think it’s going to be unique. There’s a lot of similarities in things how he uses me with how Dan (Quinn) used me in the system. He has more tweaks and turns of how he’s going to set things up. There’s some things I’ve got to get used to too. Obviously, some things I’ve got to get used to, too. You know it’s going to be a compromising relationship.”

Despite talking about wanting to improve the Cowboys’ culture on his Bleacher Report podcast, Parsons has shown he is willing to compromise on that commitment by getting his 250-pound frame in shape outside of The Star to the point that he showed up to shoot photos and other content for Dallas’ game day broadcast elements on May 29 but not for OTAs on May 30. 

“You don’t just build relationships in the locker room,” Parsons said, pushing back on the idea that he has to be at the facility to build chemsitry. “Me and (defensive lineman) Chauncey (Golston) went on vacation to Columbia and (defensive lineman) Sam (Williams) was there too. I don’t think a locker room is the only way to build chemistry with my teammates. Now you’re talking about rookies. I come in here and I sit in a cold tub and talk to some of the rookies. Just because I’m not actively here at the designated time doesn’t mean I don’t come in.”

Parsons ultimately believes that being at the Cowboys training camp out in Oxnard, California (July 23-Aug. 22) is enough time to make up for his routine absence. The 2024 season will reveal if the All-Pro can help Dallas achieve different postseason results while sticking to his own usual, separate offseason program. 

“You ever watch Remember the Titans? We’re gonna be in Oxnard a very, very long time,” Parsons said. “There’s going to be a lot of chemistry in that building. I think that’s really the time where you see everything. Like it’s hard to really teach someone without pads or true contact or hand points. Like it’s just not realistic. We can’t even touch someone or we’re gonna lose a draft paper or something like that. Like it’s just, it’s outrageous, and I haven’t really, I think right now it’s just more technique. It’s a lot of walkthroughs right now. So for my position … where I’m at, it’s a lot of individual, and I can do a lot individually by myself or with my trainer.”

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Author: Garrett Podell
June 5, 2024 | 8:50 am

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