Spagnola: Parsons Already Just Doing His Thing


CANTON, Ohio – Well, uh, we just got a vivid reminder of what we missed last year or, uh, what we didn't miss with no preseason games.

So, let's throw down a few disclaimers when digesting Steelers 16, Cowboys 3, here Thursday night in the NFL's preseason kickoff Hall of Fame Game at Tom Benson Stadium.

The score doesn't matter. Forget about it.

Remember, and in no particular order, there was no Dak Prescott, no Ezekiel Elliott, no CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper or Michael Gallup. Even more significant, no Tyron Smith, no Zack Martin. Only La'el Collins and Tyler Biadasz for one series. No DeMarcus Lawrence, no Trevon Diggs, no Randy Gregory, not even Donovan Wilson. Oh, and no Greg Zuerlein for sure.

On top of that, only Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith for maybe two series. Same for Anthony Brown and Keanu Neal.

And I get it, the Steelers were basically in the same boat, sitting their starters as well.

But hey, did you see No. 11? Micah Parsons? Football player, not to be defined by a position? All over the field?

And before we go any further on the Cowboys' first-round pick, 12th in the draft, let's point out this was the first game of football he's played since the Cotton Bowl to conclude his 2019 season for Penn State. And let's remember, too, he only played two full seasons at Penn State.

Parsons catches my attention every day in training camp. He catches Dan Quinn's and head coach Mike McCarthy's, too. To the point that those guys have to govern themselves not to wear him out playing him here and there in practice. But can you blame them?

Well, he also caught the attention of Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin. With Parsons playing his college ball in the state of Pennsylvania, certainly he probably knew all about him heading into the draft this year, from his time at Penn State and bet his time in high school also.

As Parsons was finishing his press conference at the makeshift podium after the game, someone told him, "Hey, Coach T wants to say hi." He turned the corner, and there was Tomlin.

And with those intense eyes of his, he looked at Parsons and said, "You do your thing. … You do your thing."

Boy, oh boy, in the little time he played here Thursday night against the Steelers, did he ever _do his thing_. Did it from the strongside linebacker spot. Did it from the middle linebacker spot on the nickel defense.

First, being Johnny on the spot during that first-possession Steelers fumble, quarterback Mason Rudolph trying to hand off on an end-around to wide receiver Chase Claypool when he was hardly looking, the ball landing on the ground. And there was Parsons swooping in for the recovery at the Pittsburgh 48, setting up the Cowboys only score of the game, Hunter Niswander's 29-yard field goal.

And how about this for a little continuity?

"I actually had a fumble recovery in my first game in college," Parsons says. "I like the trend that's going on right now."

So does a team in desperate need of a defensive infusion after last year's unacceptable showing. And it's not as if Parsons made some spectacular play to recover the ball, but you know what? He just seems to be one of those guys the ball finds.

Now, the official tackle chart has Parsons down for three tackles in his two series. But when looking at my notes, seems I was writing his name down more than that. Earlier in that first possession of the game, he made a solo tackle, taking down Ray-Ray McCloud for just a 3-yard gain.

On the second possession, with the second-team defense on the field, Parsons chases down wide receiver Diontae Johnson on a successful smoke screen. Two plays later, he stopped a run play. Next, he stopped Steelers' first-round pick Najee Harris for a 1-yard gain.

That was enough for one night, as McCarthy was adamant about regulating player snaps, knowing the Cowboys, after getting back to camp in Oxnard at 4:55 in the morning on Friday, would be practicing against the Rams on Saturday.

But not bad for a guy having not played a game of football, be it only preseason, since Dec. 28, 2019, nearly 20 months ago.

Just a natural, you know.

"Micah is always around the football," McCarthy would say after the game.

See, told you so.

He also enjoys playing football. You can tell. And he sure doesn't seem put out talking about it at all. Not after practices and not after games, this one in particular since his family members were able to come over from Harrisburg, Pa., to watch him play in this Hall of Fame Game.

Possibly a prelude to where his NFL career starts but maybe ends?

OK, OK, way ahead of myself. Let's see what happens when he plays an entire game. Like, a real game when opposing teams start game-planning for the 6-3, 248-pound _player_.

But that might become a difficult task. Just because he's so versatile. Parsons can be asked to do so many different things on defense, line up in various spots on the field. Hard to anticipate what might be coming next, a dream for Quinn.

And from the sound of things, Quinn and senior defensive assistant George Edwards aren't trying to overload or complicate things for the rookie. Because when ask what the coaches are telling him, he said it's pretty simple.

"You know, they really don't try to tell me how to play," Parsons said. "They really just say play hard, play fast, play reckless out there, and that's kind of been my game, just kind of how I've always played. But, you know, they just try to tell me how to fit in the defense. Where do I look and how to start looking.

"After that, they just let me be a ballplayer."

Exactly, a ballplayer indeed.