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Rookie LB Micah Parsons Helping Cowboys Build New Identity on Defense

When the Cowboys spent a first round pick at linebacker for the second time in three seasons, it was a clear sign they need to improve at the position to revamp Dan Quinn’s defense. Twelfth overall pick Micah Parsons has been more than just a standard linebacker for the Cowboys defense so far in OTAs, playing some as a pass rusher while coming away with an interception return for a touchdown on Thursday.

Parsons has played alongside Leighton Vander Esch, one of the linebackers put on notice along with Jaylon Smith when the team drafted not only Parsons but Jabrill Cox. Regardless of their role on the field, Vander Esch and Smith provide something the Cowboys simply lack elsewhere on defense – a veteran presence with at least some proven production.

This adds to the intrigue of building around a new player like Parsons, who by all reports is impressing Cowboys veterans and coaches alike in his first practices.

David Helman on Twitter: “I’m not just saying it for fun: Micah Parsons seemed to have himself a day today.Lined up all over the formation, including MIKE & DPR/SAM/whatever you want to call it.Parsons pick 6’ed Garrett Gilbert in 7on7 & blitzed the A gap for a sack. had a nice swim move on Pollard. / Twitter”

I’m not just saying it for fun: Micah Parsons seemed to have himself a day today.Lined up all over the formation, including MIKE & DPR/SAM/whatever you want to call it.Parsons pick 6’ed Garrett Gilbert in 7on7 & blitzed the A gap for a sack. had a nice swim move on Pollard.

With the Cowboys working Randy Gregory into his first full offseason with the team, their hope is to have a weakside defensive end that won’t have to come off the field much. Parsons getting snaps at the DPR/SAM position would mean he’s rushing opposite of Gregory, taking advantage of the attention DeMarcus Lawrence warrants on the strongside.

David Moore on Twitter: “Leighton Vander Esch on Dan Quinn scheme:”I’m going back pretty much to my old role from the first 2 years, which I think is what it should have been last year.” / Twitter”

Leighton Vander Esch on Dan Quinn scheme:”I’m going back pretty much to my old role from the first 2 years, which I think is what it should have been last year.”

Asking too much too soon of Parsons or any of the eight rookies Dallas drafted in another new scheme is a recipe for failure. Adding Parsons at linebacker could be the key to turning around the play of Vander Esch and Smith, with Leighton also intercepting a Dak Prescott pass in yesterday’s practice.

When Parsons is not going after the quarterback, ranging sideline to sideline as a MIKE linebacker is his best trait. If this means Vander Esch is freed up to make plays at WILL or anchor against the run at SAM, the Cowboys will be getting the type of big return they need on this year’s top pick.

In Nickel defense, the Cowboys will likely play with two linebackers on the field for the majority of their snaps. With only two spots to work in Parsons, Vander Esch, and Smith, there could easily be an odd man out at LB for the Cowboys.

Free agent acquisition Keanu Neal is also an added wrinkle to the Cowboys linebacker room, bringing experience at the safety position under Dan Quinn in Atlanta. Neal’s coverage skills are needed on the second level in today’s game, and is something the Cowboys don’t have in Smith or any other depth players at LB.

David Helman on Twitter: “Had a chance to chat with Micah Parsons today.He said he thinks he’s starting to get the veterans’ attention, and his confidence is building. I asked him if he’s placed any emphasis on that, or if it just comes naturally. pic.twitter.com/tKfAddsG9a / Twitter”

Had a chance to chat with Micah Parsons today.He said he thinks he’s starting to get the veterans’ attention, and his confidence is building. I asked him if he’s placed any emphasis on that, or if it just comes naturally. pic.twitter.com/tKfAddsG9a

Getting too high or low on any updates from practices before Oxnard training camp isn’t the best way to keep track of the Cowboys progress on defense. What can be gathered is how they plan to deploy a cast of new players.

By putting the focus on Parsons, and seeing how the Cowboys rookie has handled everything thrown at him so far, the team can better plan for not only what this season will look like defensively but their future at linebacker. The Cowboys were linked to Parsons very early in the draft process, with some of this buzz dying down once mocks had first round cornerbacks sliding their way at tenth overall.

Micah Parsons
Dallas Cowboys LB Micah Parsons.

Once cornerback was no longer an option at ten, the Cowboys traded down to twelve. Whether or not this was a strong recovery from getting wiped out at their biggest position of need, or a reach that will cause even further setbacks at linebacker, will be determined as Parsons settles into a defined role for his first season.

Tell us what you think about “Rookie LB Micah Parsons Helping Cowboys Build New Identity on Defense” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Sean Martin

Written by Sean Martin

Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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  1. Like i. Have been telling A lot of people, this defense will be real scary by mid season if they stay healthy.

  2. I always thought Jaylon Smith would be a better fit at the position they’re putting Parsons in. Jaylon needs to rush the QB more often high motor and relentless. I don’t like him playing in so much space

  3. J Smith has never particularly shown good pass rush skills. But ur right he has no business operating in space. He’s a sitting duck out there. Unfortunately unless he is moving forward in a straight line he’s ineffective. He’ll likely play SAM where he can play the run on the strong side. He will come off the field on passing downs.

    Parsons will be our MLB where he can read/react and make plays sideline to sideline. He can also be used as a blitzer, which is a big strength of his.

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