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Would Keanu Neal's Absence Affect Parsons?


FRISCO, Texas – Another week, another challenge.

Understandably, the Cowboys aren't about to divulge their defensive gameplan for a divisional matchup against Philadelphia. But just one week after his debut as an edge rusher, Micah Parsons may have another opportunity to show off his skillset.

Just as Randy Gregory returned from the reserve/COVID-19 list, Wednesday brought the news that Keanu Neal will be added to it, which means the Cowboys could be without one of their most athletic linebackers in a game against an incredibly athletic quarterback in Jalen Hurts.

"You look at him through Alabama to Oklahoma," Parsons said Wednesday. "He's always been a threat with his legs and you've got to learn how to slow him down and spy him up a little bit."

Parsons is the talk of this team heading into Week 3, and for good reason. Without either of their starting defensive ends against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Cowboys' coaching staff deployed Parsons as an edge rusher for the first time in his career.

As has been well-documented, the results were wildly successful, as Parsons played 39 snaps and finished with eight pressures and a game-changing sack of Justin Herbert.

"They set me up to do those things, gave me a lot of one-on-ones," he said. "They knew it was real sudden so they were like we just want you to go fast."

It fits the early theme of this season that personnel losses might once again the Cowboys to change course. Just as Gregory returns to the roster, Dorance Armstrong is also questionable with an ankle sprain. And losing Neal to the COVID list means Dan Quinn's defense will be without a linebacker who is well-suited to defending Hurts – a former safety who can keep pace better than most.

The dilemma is obvious. Should Parsons stay where he played in Week 2, or might be revert back to Week 1's more traditional linebacker role. Or, in an effort to get the most bang for their buck, might the Cowboys try both? If that's what he's asked to do, Parsons thinks he's up to the task.

"I'm learning every day and I think as the season goes on you might see me at linebacker for two downs then third down as a rusher, then third down going to cover somebody," he said. "Just the versatility that I can do. As the season goes on, you'll see me doing a lot of back and forth. It's something I can handle."

That's an impressive assertion from a guy who is beginning to prep for his third career game. Parsons was peppered with questions about his approach on Wednesday, as reporters tried to gauge how a rookie could take on such a diverse and intensive workload.

Maybe natural ability plays into that, as Parsons explained that he thinks he's had a photographic memory going back to high school. He also noted that he spends as much time with Quinn as possible, including during the special teams periods of practice.

Whatever the reasoning for the success, Parsons said it's on him to show he can keep it up.

"I feel like I'm an every-down player," he said. "Each week I've got to prove that. This week, I might get even more snaps than I did last week. It's all about proving and showing you can do it."

What does that look like against the Eagles? Might Parsons act as a spy on Hurts in an effort to keep him in the pocket? Does someone else handle that while Parsons rushes off the edge. Will his eventual role include a little bit of everything.

The Cowboys aren't going to spell that out ahead of time, but Parsons did make one thing clear: he's ready for whatever they might ask of him.

"When you've got a wild bull, you don't just let him pace, you let him run," he said. "I'm just out there running. If I'm tired, I'll tell them I'm tired. I'm out there, I just want to play. I'm going to give 100 percent. If I can't give 100, then I won't be out there playing."

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