Cowboys’ Micah Parsons turns to former All-Pro tackle to become a better pass rusher

OXNARD, Calif. — During the Cowboys’ 2021 training camp, they practiced one day with the Los Angeles Rams. Micah Parsons, a rookie at the time, got tips from veteran Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth. They have stayed in contact ever since.

This offseason, Parsons reached out to the now-retired Whitworth. He wanted the four-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion to come visit him in Austin, Texas, where Parsons was training. Whitworth agreed. So, for a week in May, the two went over film and broke down what Parsons could do to take his game to the next level.

They went over who Parsons felt he played his best against and who might have caused him problems. Parsons asked questions about what an offensive lineman is thinking on certain plays.

“It was awesome,” said Whitworth, who attended the Cowboys’ training camp practice Saturday. “Just hearing somebody as young and as successful as he is, just that curious energy. It wasn’t this attitude like, ‘I got it figured out.’ It was like, ‘Hey, man, treat me like I’m a blank canvas. Teach me what you think from your position of how I play.’”

The first day Whitworth was in Austin, he watched Parsons work out with Cincinnati Bengals star wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and Cowboys rookie running back Deuce Vaughn. They went through various cone and agility drills.

“He’s tremendous,” Whitworth said. “He’s unbelievable. His movement skills and his competition ability is so rare. The first thing I walked away with is how he reminded me of Aaron Donald because of the way he competes every single rep of his workout. Most guys don’t do that. A lot of guys are going through the rhythm until it’s time, just going through the motions. And, boom, when it’s game time, they play.

“But this guy, every rep is a competitive motion, fighting and talking sh–, competing. And that reminded me of practices with (Donald) every single day. That’s the only guy I’ve ever seen that competes that way even in just a workout or a walk-through or anything else. It reminded me a lot of that kind of attitude. I think just that alone separates him from a lot of guys.”


Micah Parsons: ‘I’m just tired of being second, tired of coming up short’

Donald has been arguably the NFL’s best defender over the last decade. He has earned three NFL defensive player of the year awards, seven first-team All-Pro selections and Pro Bowl invites during all nine of his seasons in the league. He has averaged 11.4 sacks and 17.7 tackles for loss per season from the defensive tackle position. He totaled a career-high 20 1/2 sacks and 25 tackles for loss in 2018.

Like Donald, Parsons won NFL defensive rookie of the year. He has also made first-team All-Pro and been to the Pro Bowl during both seasons in the league.

“He’s very unique,” Whitworth said of Parsons. “I don’t even think he does a lot of tendencies and techniques that you probably see out of most rushers, like what you see today with long arms and things like that. He more truly rushes off feel. And I was always intrigued by him, and the reason we’ve kind of kept in touch is because I was much more that kind of player.

“That’s how he rushes, it’s all feel. I feel a guy’s shoulders turn. I feel him get off the ball late. I’m going to feel my way to the quarterback and go to the path of least resistance or where I think I can beat him.”

And while that has worked for Parsons already at an elite level, when he goes against the best offensive tackles, there are going to be areas where he can still improve. That’s why he sought out the advice of a player who was a starting NFL left tackle for the majority of his 16-year career.

“I’m really trying to get into the offensive mind,” Parsons said in June after working with Whitworth. “So when I’m going against top guys like Andrew Thomas, Trent Williams, Lane Johnson and these guys I’m going to face in this NFC class, how are they playing me? What am I struggling with? And how can I beat it? I can’t learn that from no one else in the league. I got to learn that from a guy who has shut down guys like me before.”

Whitworth thought the time spent with Parsons was well worth it and something he hopes they continue to do in the future. He also plans to watch Parsons even closer during this season.

“I look forward to seeing him grow,” Whitworth said. “Because I actually think the most impressive thing to me is from a rush standpoint, he is still a pretty raw rusher. It’s pretty new to him. To be as successful as he is, it’s crazy.

“When I was playing guys, no matter how talented or how big, long, strong, whatever their attributes are, the No. 1 thing I used to always say when I would face a young player is, ‘Wow, this kid doesn’t know how to rush yet.’ For him to come in the league, and he knows how to rush already, it’s crazy. As he gets stronger and adds a little weight and is truly doing more reps as an edge rusher, man, there’s no telling how good he can get.

“I think there’s still a lot of room for growth. And I think that’s crazy to say, but that’s how talented he is.”

(Photo of Micah Parsons: Cooper Neill / Getty Images)

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