OXNARD, Calif. — It seems unfathomable to imagine there's a higher gear in Micah Parsons' transmission, but considering his already proven ability to level up from his previous year, it's equally unimaginable to assume he's lacking one. It's a reality that could put the Dallas Cowboys defense in rarefied air in 2023, at least that's how Parsons sees it.
And he's not off-base in his thinking when you consider the Cowboys led the NFL in takeaways the past two seasons, both under Dan Quinn as defensive coordinator, and were top-5 in several other categories.
So where can they go from here?
"What do I think this defense can be? I think we can be up there with the 49ers' great defense," the two-time First-Team All-Pro said after Friday's walkthrough at training camp in Oxnard. "I think we can be up there with Ray Lewis' defense. I think we can be up there with the Legion of Boom."
Is it a coincidence Parsons mentions the famed L.O.B. defense that was developed and led by Quinn? Likely not, especially considering the defensive overhaul that's occurred since Quinn arrived in 2021 following the split from the Mike Nolan experiment.
The addition of Stephon Gilmore via trade and the team's decision to use a first-round pick on Mazi Smith (a position they have gone decades without addressing with a Day 1 pick) are further evidence to just how all-in the Cowboys have been on Quinn's engineering.
And Parsons, a key part of that formula, is flat-out ecstatic.
"The talent we have, the vet guys and the young guys, the experience we all have," the two-time Pro Bowler said, pausing to ponder just how stacked the roster currently is. "Since my rookie year, we got thrown into the fire. And we've gotten experience from tough games, playoff-level games, and I don't think there's a guy on our team that doesn't have postseason experience outside of the guys that just came in.
"We've got some elite guys with elite talent, and some have been to the [Super] Bowl and that have just been on playoff runs. I think we've got a great chance."
Having seen their season end in 2022 despite allowing only 19 points to the San Francisco 49ers, one week after shutting down and ultimately retiring Tom Brady, Parsons and the defense has proven it's Super Bowl worthy; and that was before Gilmore and Davis arrived.
If all goes according to play, they could enter a different stratosphere entirely.
"Man, I'm ready to take everybody out into the deep water," said the 2021 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. "Everybody's comfortable when their knees are in the water, but I'm ready to go out into the deep water and I hope everybody's prepared to go out into the deep water. In terms of my conditioning and where I'm at, and how I determined how I was gonna get better this year, I think it's through the roof.
"I just hope everybody's ready. You gotta see if they can swim. I'm gonna take them to an island. … "I invest in how I can get better, not in the things I do right already.
"I invest in my weaknesses. I want to turn them into strengths."
As far as the addition of Gilmore goes, it's instantly become a complement to not only Trevon Diggs in the cornerback room, but also to a Butkus Award winner like Parsons — who will be allowed to play freely and simply tee off more and more as the season rolls along.
"I told Gilly, 'Bro, you're gonna get me three more sacks,'" said Parsons. "I just know what kind of player he is — the type of guy that these young guys are trying to be like. I'm excited. Gilly [then] told me, after only two days of practice, 'Man, I've never seen the ball come out that fast.'
"So I'm like, 'Bro, that thing is gonna come out hot. I'm telling you. Or they're done. It's over and you won't have to worry about it — we're off the field. It's that type of feedback and intensity that we're bringing to each other. We just want to see everybody win. There's gonna be sometimes where I'm like, 'Bro, you can sit on this.'
"That's just because I know that I'm about to beat this guy, that this guy has no chance. … That type of DB corps? I've never had something like this in my career. Ever."
Someone might want to pick up that mic that Parsons just dropped.