FRISCO, Texas — Micah Parsons loves watching wild animal videos. He enjoys seeing the chase of a lion stalking its prey in the wild and the victory when it takes down its prey.
Parsons, a Dallas Cowboys pass-rusher, views himself as a lion and the quarterback as his prey. He is always on the chase. It does not stop. Since sacks became an official stat in 1982, only six players have had more in their first two seasons than Parsons’ 26.5.
He was named Defensive Rookie of the Year, earned two All-Pro and Pro Bowl nods and was twice a runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year.
As Parsons enters his third season, he is on the hunt for a lot of things — but greatness in particular.
“I’ve come to this mindset where I’m just tired of being second, tired of coming up short,” Parsons said. “What can I do every day to put myself in the best position to say, like, ‘I can live with that’?
“So far, I haven’t been able to live with the fact that us losing 19-12 [in the 2022 playoffs at the San Francisco 49ers] and that wild-card game our rookie year. I told this to the guys: ‘Is the price of discipline worth a lifetime of regret?’ And for me, it just [isn’t].”
To do his part, Parsons developed an offseason plan he believes has him prepared to take his game to another level when the Cowboys kick off their campaign on Sept. 10 at the New York Giants (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC).
First, Parsons stayed away from the beginning of the Cowboys’ voluntary offseason program in mid-April to work out with an acclaimed trainer and former collegiate track star at The Kollective, a private gym in Austin, Texas. While there, he also worked with a four-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle to “get into the offensive mind.” And upon returning to Frisco in May, he immersed himself in boxing with a five-time Dallas Golden Gloves champion to strengthen his hand-eye coordination and footwork.
The offseason plan was all designed for Parsons’s chase of a Super Bowl championship.
“I don’t think anybody in here would deny that I’m a special player,” Parsons said. “But I believe that you kind of need your own plan. You kind of need your own unique way to get you to where you want to be.
“I just felt like I needed to really separate myself, dial in, bring that focus, bring that determination and just really isolate myself and get away from everybody and just show people, ‘Hey, I’m going to come back and be the best player I can be.'”
THE KOLLECTIVE COVERS more than 20,000 square feet with all of the high-end training equipment, recovery tools and nutrition needs. Five days a week, starting at 8 a.m., Parsons worked out with trainer Mo Wells, who excelled in track at LSU. Some days, they focused on strength and conditioning; other days were spent on speed and agility, body maintenance and position-specific drills.
One goal was to make Parsons’ strength more symmetrical. Wells said Parsons went from a 20% imbalance from his left side to his right side to less than 5% through work with countermovement jumps and squat jumps. By evening out the strength to each side, it should help Parsons reduce injury and generate consistent power.
Parsons’ best trait might be his closing speed, but improving speed wasn’t an objective.
“It was intense training. We’re trying to improve those things, but it’s not imperative,” Wells said. “How much faster than 4.3 [seconds in the 40-yard dash] do you need to be successful? It’s about body work.”
Parsons has missed one game in two seasons (due to COVID-19 as a rookie), but he believed he was wearing down late in the season. In 11 regular-season games in December and January, he has 5.5 sacks.
A portion of his work at The Kollective was spent on taking care of his body with the aid of yoga, Pilates and post-workout stretching and nutrition. The goal was to improve range of motion, pliability and condition.
“I can play seven or eight quarters,” Parsons said. “I can play two games if I have to.”
The time at The Kollective was also about competition, even the supposed downtime.
“He’s so relentless about everything,” Wells said. “Pickleball, bowling or change of direction with everybody, he’s extremely competitive. He wants to go above and beyond, but he’s trying to beat everybody beside him. That translates to when he’s on the football field.”
One moment that went viral was a change-of-direction race between Parsons, Cowboys running back Deuce Vaughn and Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. Vaughn is 5-foot-5 and 180 pounds. Chase is 6 feet and 201 pounds. Parsons is 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds.
Parsons either won or was with Vaughn and Chase step for step.
“That’s Micah Parsons,” Vaughn said. “He’s one of the best in this league and probably one of the most athletic guys. You see it out here every single day that you’re on the football field. To have him be a Dallas Cowboy, and the way he plays football, you can see it back in April, whenever we’re not even getting close to playing football, the way that he’s doing everything.”
This the year!! Stronger,and faster! 🤫 https://t.co/jC3jLNRqlF
— Micah Parsons (@MicahhParsons11) May 9, 2023
PARSONS WAS A decorated youth wrestler growing up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He didn’t wrestle in high school but considered giving it a go at Penn State, until football coach James Franklin nixed the idea. But the hand-to-hand combat of wrestling and his use of leverage against bigger or quicker opponents helped Parsons in football.
This offseason, boxing became one of his pursuits. Former teammate Amari Cooper introduced him to Tony Mack, who runs TMACK Elite Training in Allen, Texas.
“I got tired of people punching me in my face,” Parsons said. “I’m a smaller end, and these guys are long, so just learning how to keep my hands up, knocking [their hands] down, defending my chest, defending my face — and just being smooth.”
Mack was a five-time Dallas Golden Gloves champion and three-time Texas amateur champion who competed in the 2012 Olympic trials. He has had several professional athletes train with him.
“He doesn’t want to hold back,” Mack said of Parsons. “He wants to spar, fight. He’s a true champion. I’m like, ‘Micah, slow down. You can’t just start boxing, man.'”
For two hours a day, three days a week, Parsons worked with Mack after OTAs began. They would box for an hour then perform conditioning work for another hour. There were times when Parsons wanted to work more and Mack left because he had to go somewhere else.
“He’s not afraid to get tired,” Mack said.
— Tony Mack (@TKOTONYMACK) August 29, 2023
Mack admitted he has cringed at times when training other athletes or those looking to get in better shape.
“They don’t get it at all, like hand-eye coordination, footwork, all that,” he said. “Micah picked it up right away.”
Parsons quickly saw the correlation between boxing and rushing the passer.
“You can’t just throw a punch without your legs,” Parsons said. “You’ve got to have your legs underneath you at all times. So it’s just constantly keeping your hands going, keep them hands off you.”
As Mack explained, “The footwork helps with angles, how it makes him quicker, how to make the opponent miss and make them pay. All of that comes together. I tell him, ‘You can play football. You can play basketball. But you can’t play boxing.’ It’s only you. You can’t hide.
“If you’re not in condition, if you make any mistakes in boxing, you’ll be exposed.”
PARSONS ASKS A lot of questions.
From the time he arrived in Dallas in 2021, he has received guidance from Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys’ all-time leader in sacks. They text each other frequently. Hall of Fame outside linebacker and defensive end Charles Haley is a constant visitor to The Star — the Cowboys’ headquarters and practice facility in Frisco — and he and Parsons have had conversations about pass rushing.
This offseason, Parsons wanted an offensive lineman’s perspective. He reached out on social media to former offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, who had a 16-year career with the Bengals and Los Angeles Rams. Whitworth was a two-time All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler.
Whitworth said he expected Parsons to say he can beat anybody and if there is something he wanted to add to his skillset, he would listen. Instead, Parsons told Whitworth to watch his tape and critique everything. What Whitworth saw reminded him of his former Rams teammate Aaron Donald.
“What makes AD so great is he has all these physical talents, but the way he competes is like no one else. And Micah’s got that,” Whitworth said. “You can see him in practice, and it’s like one of those things where you don’t know if it’s a positive or a negative that he practices on your team because you can’t hardly get anything off and he ruins plays.
“But then you’re like, “Well, dang, we’d love to see how that play works without that happening, but it’s also awesome that we have a guy on the team that’s that good.’ That’s how we were with AD. He destroyed every one of our practices.”
Big shout to the big buy @AndrewWhitworth for taking out the time in his week to help me grow as an player! We will only grow from those who have accomplished what we seek! #Legend pic.twitter.com/9YWMNNOM1D
— Micah Parsons (@MicahhParsons11) May 12, 2023
For a week, Whitworth and Parsons studied tape and went through pass-rush sets after Parsons’ workouts at The Kollective. It’s one thing to hear a pass-rusher say something about how to attack a tackle. It’s another thing to hear what a tackle looks for in a pass-rusher.
“I’m really trying to get into the offensive mind,” Parsons said, “so when I’m going against top guys like Andrew Thomas, Trent Williams — the guys I’m going to face in this NFC — Lane [Johnson], how these guys play me and what I’m struggling with, how can I beat it? I can’t learn that from no one else in the league. I got to learn it from a guy who shut down guys like me before.”
Whitworth was there the day Parsons raced Vaughn and Chase.
“You watch him work out [and Parsons is] talking s— with them, like, ‘Hey, I’m going to compete in this little 5-yard change-of-direction drill, but I’m going to beat you,'” Whitworth said. “And he’s locked in like it’s the Super Bowl or a division matchup with the Giants, and he’s that intense in getting after it.”
Whitworth, who attended a Cowboys training camp practice in Oxnard, California, has worked with a couple of defensive players over the years, but he said it was “pretty rare.”
“You don’t usually see young guys when they start in the league, their first two, three, four years having lots of success, thinking outside the box and saying, ‘What’s some other ways I can get better?'” Whitworth said. “I think it’s really cool to see somebody who’s having success and chasing more.”
PARSONS DID NOT need permission to miss the early part of the offseason program, since it is voluntary. But there was some trepidation inside the organization, because the Cowboys believe the sessions with teammates — starting as early as February with player-led captains’ workouts — lead to a camaraderie that carries through difficult times in the regular season.
“Going into it, it was, ‘Hey, I’d like to hear about your process. Who are the people? What does it look like?’ Just to give some counseling and some advice on that,” Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “A lot of players can learn from one another. We’ve seen that before.”
I will be a Super Bowl champion!! #begreat
— Micah Parsons (@MicahhParsons11) September 1, 2023
As Parsons explained, “It was kind of like that leap of faith. [Quinn] was like, ‘Man, I know you’re a dog competitor, but when you come back, you got to show that you are in the right place.’ And each time I came back, I got a little bit better and I was a little better.”
In late May, when the Cowboys started their organized team activities, Parsons was there.
“Once he got to the first OTAs, that first workout, he crushed it,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said. “I had no concern about where he was physically.”
During training camp practices in Oxnard, Parsons was almost unblockable. It did not matter where he lined up, he was in Dak Prescott‘s face — so much so that McCarthy had to remind Parsons a few times to stay away from the quarterback.
Parsons believes it will be the same when the season starts.
“I’m telling you,” Parsons said last week in a quiet moment in the locker room, “I’m ready.”