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Draft Central | 2021

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Spagnola: Come Meet A Much-Needed Playmaker


FRISCO, Texas – Playmaker.

Michael Irvin earned that moniker, because why?

Because just when the Cowboys were in dire need of somebody, anybody, to make a play, Michael made one.

Maybe that was ingrained into him while playing for Jimmy Johnson at the University of Miami, because still to this day, 28 years since Jimmy stalked the Cowboys sideline, ringing in my ears from practice is this:

Jimmy prancing around out at The Ranch, clapping his hands as only he claps hands, out in front of him, sort of about chest high as if he was chanting for "Gator Bait," right hand down, out above left hand up, exhorting his players, any of his players, come on, at least one of his players, "Who is going to make the play . . . who is going to make the play?"

Well, let me ask you this? Who today on this Cowboys defense is going to be the guy to answer Jimmy's charge?

Maybe D-Law?

Could be Randy Gregory?

And . . . and . . .


That right there is why the Cowboys, with the 12th pick in the first round of Thursday's NFL Draft found themselves a, uh, Parsons in a pear tree.

As in Micah Parsons, linebacker, 6-3½, 246, runs a 4.39 in his Pro Day 40. As in the highest-ranked defensive player in this draft, and I do not say that cavalierly, having seen that in at least three of those Top100 rankings.

As in the No. 1-rated linebacker, unequivocally, in this 2021 NFL Draft. As in the Cowboys top-rated defensive player.

The Cowboys just needed him. Desperately.

Mike McCarthy, when asked about the Penn State linebacker: "I can't say enough."

This from the owner, Jerry Jones: "Bottom line is, I can tell you from my standpoint now, I'm excited to get that rare individual with that rare attitude that he's got . . . I'm excited about what he does for us. He can do a lot of damage and impact the identity of this defense . . . he is that good."

That good.

Because the guy makes plays.

Don't take my word for it. Don't be lazy. Don't just listen to the presidents of the NFL Draft cottage industry, who invariably get butt-hurt when a team does not do what they have predicted. So sorry you Charlies. Hey, go look for yourselves.

Parsons is big. Strong. Fast. Instinctive. Edgy.

Got any nominations on the current Cowboys defense to make for all that?

Oh, and he darn sure isn't shy about tackling. Like against the run, a sore subject when it comes to the Cowboys 2020 defense, giving up 158.8 yards rushing a game, and those embarring totals of 306 to Cleveland and 294 to Baltimore.

Like that's got to be at least the half-dozen time I've pointed that out in the past week, yet for some, that doesn't seem to sink in. Sure the Cowboys need another corner. But they more needed a guy on defense who would be involved in every play of every game.

A guy who makes plays.

Had to laugh all to myself driving into The Star on Friday, listening to one of those sports talk radio shows, hearing a promo from one unrecognizable voice saying, "Parsons is the No. 1-rated linebacker but the Cowboys didn't need the No. 1-rated linebacker."

Say what?

Oh hell yes they did. This guy makes plays.

In 2019, his first season to start 12 of 13 games at Penn State, Parsons had 14 tackles for losses as a sophomore. He had five sacks. Became the first sophomore in Big Ten history to win the Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year award. And poor Memphis in Penn State's 53-39 Cotton Bowl victory at AT&T Stadium. Parsons recorded 14 tackles, three TFLs, two sacks, two passes defensed and two forced fumbles, as if he was playing against a high school team.

Just don't forget Rod Marinelli's words to play by: _You don't earn the right to rush the passer if you can't stop the run_.

Funny story, Jerry Jones set up Mike McCarthy at Parson's Friday introductory press conference, one that included every member of his immediate family, father, mother, brothers, sister and his son, asking him to recall the story.

"We talked about pass rush, in the conversation we were in that day, and we were going through the defensive ends and the other rushers and really the most impactful pressure player was Micah, and he was doing it from the linebacker position," McCarthy said.

Parsons handled himself well before the local media. Very comfortable. Very confident.

When asked what this all has been like, and the Cowboys No. 1 pick says, "Think if you were 21 and you just met Jerry Jones. It's pretty freakin' awesome."

And when asked about his leadership skills, Parsons said, "My personality isn't quiet, but I'm quiet, if that makes sense."

Then Parsons, when talking about his edginess on the field, caught himself, beginning to say, "I'm a silent . . . uh, not going to say it that way."

No need, just play it that way. The Cowboys need some bad mothers on the field, if you know what I mean. And the fact he had no problem verbalizing his passion to win, saying, "I just hate to lose. I love to win. You can go anywhere you want – we could do basketball, we could go bowling, we can do whatever; play some chess. I'm going to find a way to beat you. I would never lose every day.

"I just think that if you've got that mindset, and the proof is in itself. If you lose today, you've got a new day to wake up tomorrow and win."

He went on to tell the story of when he first learned to bowl. That's right, big guy bowls.

"Ask my man Daron," Parsons began, referring to his brother. "He beat me twice. I said, 'It's OK.' So the next day we all went back again and I lost again. So the next day I came by myself. I bought a bowling ball and I said maybe it's the balls at the lane. This can't be right. I bought a 10-pound ball and I chunked it down the lane as hard as I could. So this guy was like, 'You know that's never going to make you good.'

"So I asked what I needed to do, so he gave me a different bowling ball that was like 15 pounds, taught me a little spin to it and once I saw that nice spin hit into that pocket I fell in love with the game of bowling just like that. So now I have like eight bowling balls and every time I go home all I do is go bowling."

Bowling, huh. A great metaphor for what the Cowboys need him to do on the field, just bowl over those offensive linemen to get to the football.

That's another trait this guy has. He figures out instinctively how to get to the football. How to get the football. How prevent other guys from getting to the football.

Someone asked McCarthy if Parsons has those speed traits he so desires on a defense and the energy needed to be successful on defense. McCarthy answered in one word.

"Bingo," he said. "I don't know how to say it better. He's got unbelievable speed and energy. He plays the game the way we want to play defense and the way we're' going to play defense."

The way they had better play defense to change 6-10.

And to do so, you darn well need playmakers.

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