What can Cowboys' Micah Parsons do for an encore? 'Bro, I can get better everywhere'

FRISCO, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' season ended on Jan. 16, but Micah Parsons has not taken a moment to reflect.

Last week, the linebacker kept himself busy with "NFL Pro Bowl: Madden NFL Edition," helping set a Guinness world record for the largest projected video game display. He won the fastest man race at the Pro Bowl's skills competition, going shirtless to beat Tyreek Hill, Nick Chubb and teammate, Trevon Diggs. On Sunday, he participated in the first of what should be many Pro Bowl games.

This week, he is likely to be named the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year and has a chance to be the defensive player of the year.

“After the Super Bowl, I can get some time to reflect,” Parsons said. “Lot of blessings this year.”

Everything fell right personally for Parsons.

And soon he will be asked to be better in 2022.

“Bro, I can get better everywhere,” said Parsons, who turns 23 in May. “I can become a better pass-rusher. I can become a better linebacker. Like, anything. I just feel like I’m just out there raw and I was just learning and I grew and I kept getting better and better throughout the year. No one’s ever perfect. There’s always room to grow in many ways to get better.”

Since Dallas' wild-card loss to the San Francisco 49ers, he said he’s been working out, “on the bike, doing some abs, elliptical. Just keeping it small.” When he gets back from the Super Bowl, he figures that’s when he will start his heavy training.

Parsons will be fighting not only other offenses and more specific game plans. He will be fighting grander expectations, too.

That’s what happens when a player threatens the NFL's single-season record for sacks by a rookie, falling two short of Jevon Kearse’s mark of 15. That’s what happens when a player records 64 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 42 quarterback pressures, three forced fumbles and three pass deflections, playing all over the field in defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s scheme. That's what happens when you become the first Cowboys’ rookie defender to be named a first-team All-Pro.

A few days after the San Francisco loss, Parsons and coach Mike McCarthy had a long discussion.

“We talked about what he can do coming off his rookie season. Clearly he made an impact. The biggest thing he is going to have to get accustomed to is the changes people make for him,” McCarthy said. “We’ve got to make sure we have him prepared. He is a targeting challenge for an offense; that ability to move him around. Any player in this league will attest to this, once you have success people will study the film and have a plan for you. So we got to make sure he takes that next step to be able to combat and continue to be highly successful.”

One way is to continue to use him in multiple roles. He lined up at linebacker 498 times and 374 times as a defensive lineman as a rookie. Speaking to reporters at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, owner and general manager Jerry Jones could not find a player to compare Parsons to.

“Because of his unique ability to not only pressure with burst and with bend and with just sheer mental assets [but] combine that with his ability to give us coverage,” Jones said. “And plus internally be the example that he is to other players as well as to our opposing players. He’s got all of those and so he’s going to invent the ‘Micah Player.’”

Parsons is OK with that.

“I want to play everything,” he said. “It just creates nightmares for offenses. They’ve got to figure out where I am and what I’m doing and change protections and things like that. Who wouldn’t want to do that stuff?”

Many may want to do it. Few actually can, which is why the Cowboys believe the return of Quinn for a second season will be so beneficial for Parsons and the entire defense.

“The more we get this going, the more we get guys to buy into what Q’s trying to build in Dallas, the better we’re going to get,” Parsons said. “I think we have one of the better defenses in the league this year and we’re only going to get better with the more experience.”

In the moments after the loss to San Francisco, Parsons publicly lobbied for Quinn to stay but he said privately Quinn already told him he was going nowhere.

“After the game, I said, ‘Man, if you leave, I understand, but I hope you stay,’” Parsons said. “He said, ‘Brother, somebody’s going to have to knock me out to leave your side. We’re going to rock this thing out.’”

As much as Parsons enjoyed his time in Las Vegas, where he hoped to swap jerseys with other Pro Bowlers and pick the brains of veterans he respects to help grow his game, and as much as he is looking forward to seeing what a Super Bowl week is like in Los Angeles, he wants to feel what it’s like to actually play for the championship.

“Man, that’s been in the back of my mind since I stepped in the league,” he said. “It’s sad we went out bad the way we did but the opportunity and the potential is there. We’ve just got to take advantage of it next year. I think we’ve got all the right pieces and we’re going to keep getting smart pieces this year and take it from there.

“But I’m telling you, like, I ain’t never been a loser in my life. I’ve always been a winner. I’m going to bet me into a bowl. I just don’t know when and how, but I know it’s in my plan and God’s plan for me to be in a Super Bowl.”