The Dallas Cowboys dealt with a massive load of injuries in 2020. Earlier this week, Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence broke a bone in his foot and will be out 6-8 weeks. That's a devastating blow, but the Cowboys took another hit to their pass rush, just not due to injury.
Randy Gregory, who has been on the Reserve/COVID list since Monday, was officially ruled out on Saturday for the Cowboys Week 2 matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Cowboys are making a huge shift defensively by moving rookie Linebacker Micah Parsons to defensive end.
Parsons is no stranger to rushing from the edge. He played defensive end in high school and was recruited at the position by Penn State. However, once he arrived on campus Parsons was informed by Head Coach James Franklin that he would be moved to linebacker where he flourished. Parsons would be named the Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year (given to the top linebacker in the Big Ten), a Consensus All-American, First-Team All-Big Ten, and the Cotton Bowl Defensive MVP in his final collegiate season in 2019. Parsons opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns.
Rapoport also provided some interesting nuggets that will result from moving Parsons to defensive end. Leighton Vander Esch will stay on the field on all packages with Keanu Neal at linebacker. He also mentioned that Neal could see some safety work, which Head Coach Mike McCarthy didn't rule out earlier in the week. That would mean more snaps for Jaylon Smith.
There were concerns after Parsons was drafted that the Cowboys would only use him as an off-the-ball linebacker instead of taking advantage of his entire skill set. However, Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn didn't any waste time during training camp letting Parsons rush the edge as well as the interior, making him the swiss army knife for the Cowboys defense.
Parsons and the aforementioned Lawrence started to build a bond during the offseason and the Cowboy's top edge rusher quickly began taking the rookie under his wing.
“Last week we were watching film of pass rush and D-Law came up to me,” Parsons said back in the spring, “And was like, ‘You pass rush like that, Rook?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I used to be a defensive end.’ He was like, ‘Alright, tap in with me.’ Me and him have been getting closer.”
The 12th overall pick in April's draft got even more guidance about rushing the passer ahead of his NFL debut last week. DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboy's all-time leader in sacks and a future Hall of Famer, did some work with Parsons on pass-rushing techniques. Ware spoke recently about his time with the talented rookie.
“I’ve got to work with him a few days ago,” Ware said. “To see him learn the pass-rush moves, put the things in his toolbox was really cool to see.”
Moving Parsons to defensive end gives the pass rush some much-needed assistance. He'll join Tarell Basham, Dorance Armstrong, Bradlee Anae, and rookie Chauncey Golston in a collective effort to make up for the loss of Lawrence and Gregory.
Parsons has an opportunity to show why he was considered the best defensive player in the 2021 NFL Draft with this move.