FRISCO, Texas - Aaron Donald is a force to be reckoned with, but the Dallas Cowboys are hoping to play Rocky to his Ivan Drago in Week 5 when the two square off at SoFi Stadium in a critical matchup for the Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams. Knocking Donald to the mat is far easier said than done, however, because he's not a seven-time First-Team All-Pro by accident.
The three-time Defensive Player of the Year is what every defensive player aspires to be: a seemingly unstoppable force who has routinely gotten the best of many lined up against him, and Micah Parsons is one such pupil who continues to be in awe at what Donald does on the field.
"My level of respect for him is through the roof," said Parsons following Thursday's practice. "He sets the tone for their defense. He's dominated since his rookie year. He's been an All-Pro since his rookie year and he's the standard of how you wanna be when you come into the league - I'm hoping I can follow in his footsteps and reach his level of greatness and success.
"I'm a huge fan of his. I hope I can get his jersey in my man cave one day."
Parsons is certainly off to the same explosive start - having earned a Pro Bowl nod, Defensive Rookie of the Year honor and First-Team All-Pro label in his first season while also being a frontrunner alongside Donald in the race for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
That honor went to Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt and, as such, Parsons has put it out of his mind and began the task of trying to improve upon last season.
"It doesn't matter how many votes we got," said Parsons. "We both lost. So what's to celebrate? Being a second-place loser?"
Well, needless to say, neither Parsons nor Donald could ever be described as such, and particularly with Donald landing the walk-off sack that helped secure the Lombardi Trophy for the Rams in their Super Bowl victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in February.
Parsons and Donald again find themselves in the forefront of the conversation for 2022, though, but the former is doing it with a mix of hard work and gleaning as much intel as he can from other legendary pass rushers like DeMarcus Ware and Hall of Famer Charles Haley, admittedly staying away from watching Donald's film as a teaching tool.
And for a very specific reason.
"I can't study him because I can't do what he does," said Parsons. "He's just so fundamental - can go from speed to power and then power to speed. He has great hands and he's doing all of this at almost 300 pounds.
"I mean, golly, what do you do? He's terrorized the league for so long."
Cooper Rush agrees wholeheartedly with Parsons' assessment, and that's why the quarterback says job numero uno for the Cowboys offensive line - led by future Hall of Fame right guard Zack Martin - is to first locate Donald on the field and then execute the play from there.
"He's a true game-wrecker," said Rush. "He's the best in the game for a reason. You have to account for him in the run game and in the pass game. He's the best to ever do it at that position and it shows every week on tape. We have a good plan but it's going to take execution.
"… You always gotta know where [No.] 99 is."
If the Cowboys don't, they'll quickly find out his location when Donald is dropping a GPS pin on a flattened Rush, instead of proving even the longest odds have a chance at paying off.
After all, he's not a machine, he's a man.