IRVING, Texas – Jermey Parnell owes a lot to the player he's competing against for playing time.
The Cowboys felt confident enough to start Parnell one game at left tackle and then rotate him consistently with Doug Free at right tackle at the end of last season. Parnell's glad the coaches have given him an opportunity, but he's also glad the tackle he rotated with has offered support.
"Free has always helped me since I've been here," Parnell said. "He's been doing this for six years, so any type of thing, nuance that I haven't seen, Free has got me. It's like going to the big brother, as they say."
Parnell would ask Free how to combat specific moves, and Free would tell him to change his stance or alter a response.
"I'm happy that Free did that for me," Parnell said.
It wasn't all that long ago that Parnell only played basketball. He never thought he'd play in the NFL, picking up a football for the first time at Ole Miss his senior year.
He's still getting accustomed to not only the position, but the entire game.
"I got hurt my senior year in basketball," Parnell said. "Houston Nutt used to always come watch us play, and they loved how physical I was on the basketball court.
"When the season was over with, we went to the NIT Finals and lost to Ohio State, I came in the coaches' office and they sent me over to the football place. I thought I was going to say what's up, but the next thing I know I'm getting a helmet, shoulder pads, cleats. I didn't even know how to get in a three-point stance."
Parnell said the rest was history.
It took some time for him to make the adjustment, and it took a couple of position switches for the now 6-6, 311-pound former basketball player to find a fit at tackle. He first landed with the Saints in 2009, but the terminology was difficult for him to grasp with his lack of experience.
"That's how I actually got put at O-line," he said. "It went from D-end to D-tackle to tight end to O-lineman, and I've been there since."
That switch eventually led to Parnell heading to Dallas late in the 2010 season. After serving solely as a backup in 2011, he started at left tackle once during the 2012 campaign for an injured Tyron Smith and played the end of [embedded_ad] the season at right tackle, holding his own in a rotation with Free. He learned last year how much faster and violent the game is than it seems from practice.
"Any time you get out on the field, you should learn from it," he said. "I think the coaches did a great job of slowly pushing me into the fire instead of dropping me in and letting me burn."
Now that he's had a taste of it, he knows he's got to make more adjustments to earn a starting role for 16 games.
"I'm further than I was when I started, but I still have improvements to make," he said. "You never look at this thing like I've arrived, because you'll never arrive, even to your 15th year or plus that, guys can always continue to get better."