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Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy's challenge to Micah Parsons: 'Be an elite player'

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FRISCO, Texas -- Micah Parsons has had a fun offseason in his new hometown. The Dallas Cowboys linebacker has attended Dallas Stars and Dallas Mavericks games. He threw out the first pitch at a Texas Rangers game. He was backstage after Errol Spence Jr.’s welterweight title fight at AT&T Stadium.

There was also a hilarious pregame puck drop at the Hershey Bears game back in his home state of Pennsylvania, where he walked to center ice and never waited for the players to join him.

There are many spoils that come with being a member of the Cowboys after becoming the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year and being named first-team All-Pro.

"I'm just enjoying Dallas, just doing new experiences,” Parsons said. “Going to places I've never been. Just enjoying life and what comes with it."

Parsons is doing his best to make sure it is not getting in the way of football as he prepares for his second season.

In a coaching career that has spanned five decades, Mike McCarthy said the Cowboys offer the biggest challenge because of the attention players receive. The Cowboys perennially lead the NFL in attendance and five of the 10 most watched games in 2021 included them. Cowboys players can be pushed and pulled in manners other players on other teams are not.

“He’s been extremely celebrated and so forth, and he’s done a lot,” McCarthy said. “I don’t think he’s missed anything outside of here. But that’s all part of the challenge.”

For McCarthy, Parsons’ second-year jump won’t be measured by statistics -- like building on a franchise-rookie-record 13 sacks in 2021.

McCarthy places NFL players into four categories, ranging from good players, to good players who have great moments, to individuals who consistently perform at an extremely high level, to, finally, the elite players.

“And that’s what we’re all hoping that these guys develop into because elite players make players better around them,” McCarthy said. “Obviously Micah had a lot of great moments last year, but our desire -- and it needs to be his desire -- is for him to be an elite player, not just a great player. ...

"How they work, how they compete in practice, how they compete in the weight room, how they compete at garbage can basketball in the locker room. I don’t know. That’s all part of culture growth and establishing that, and that’s something that he has an opportunity to really make a huge impact in our football team."

Even though he is entering only his second season, Parsons is viewed as a leader. He is arguably the Cowboys' best defensive player. A year ago, he was more measured on when to speak his mind.

“I’m able to be a little more [vocal] with the guys, explaining what I like to do, what I don’t like to do, what helps me if you do this that way,” Parsons said. “And just having that open communication this offseason, just been beneficial for the guys. I think if you look at the way we’re practicing and we’re looking at the film, we look so much better than [when] we were starting last year.”

Parsons’ ascent last year has provided some motivation for DeMarcus Lawrence, who had the past two double-digit sack seasons in team history before Parsons. Lawrence’s 2021 season was interrupted by a broken foot that cost him nine games.

His mentality entering the season?

“Become the sack leader again. I let a rookie show me up last year,” Lawrence said. “Shout-out to my boy Micah. But restate my dominance. Let everybody know that I’m coming, how I feel, and the type of respect I’m going to demand when I step on that field.”

McCarthy loves the intra-unit motivation. So does Parsons.

“It’s healthy for the locker room. I want D-Law to step up,” Parsons said. “But sorry to tell him, he’s never getting that back. I want him to get all the enjoyment that he possibly can, feed his head so he can be a 10-sack guy, great. But if 10’s the number, I’m going for 20.”

Once the mandatory minicamp ends, Parsons plans to meet regularly with Cowboys all-time sack leader DeMarcus Ware before training camp begins. The two sparked a relationship a year ago that has continued to blossom. Ware had seven straight double-digit sack seasons in Dallas and is looking at a Hall of Fame enshrinement as soon as next summer after being passed over in February.

“You’ve just got to sharpen your toolbox in the offseason, mentally,” Ware said. “You’ve got the physical aspects. You know how to play football but now, ‘How can I move before the ball snaps?’ Talk about snap counts, different movements, different tendencies, studying that stuff.

"That’s where [during Ware's NFL career] it got to a point, ‘DeMarcus, how did you know the play was happening?’ Because I studied it for 40 hours.”

Parsons said he has not changed his offseason workout plan, weighing in near his 248 pounds. Naturally, he feels far more comfortable in the defense and with what to expect, but 2021 is done.

“Micah just has to put his head down and just work, forget last year,” Parsons said. “I'm just really focused on this year and what I'm going to do. I'm not going to think about what I did before. I'm just thinking about how I can be dominant this year.”