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story.lead_photo.caption This is a 2021 photo of Micah Parsons of the Dallas Cowboys NFL team. This image reflects the Dallas Cowboys active roster as of May 13, 2021 when this image was taken. (AP Photo)

FRISCO, Texas — The first defensive snap of Cowboys rookie Micah Parsons' career came at middle linebacker. He later moved to outside linebacker and got two blockers stopping him. He blitzed, tried to cover Tampa Bay tight end Rob Gronkowski, he spun around trying to find defenders and well, just looked like a rookie.

To say the 51 snaps of Parsons first NFL regular season game was a learning experience is accurate. When that first game ended, Parsons had seven tackles and was credited with a quarterback hit and a pass defended.

Not bad for the 12th overall pick of the NFL Draft that the Cowboys expect to improve.

"I thought it was a good start for him," coach Mike McCarthy said. "He's beyond his years but he's still working. His first time to play in an NFL game, also the communication responsibility that he has to handle. That's a new experience. I don't care where you played or how much time you get in the preseason."

Parsons is expected to get better in coverage especially against men like Gronkowski, who uses their frames to shield defenders. When quarterback Tom Brady is throwing passes to a man like Gronkowski, whom he's got great chemistry with, it's difficult to defend.

On a pass reception, Gronkowski had some space between him and Parsons and caught an easy pass from Brady. Over time, Parsons might be closer to the receiver.

"That's pro football," McCarthy said. That's why they're all special athletes. I thought (Parsons) looked comfortable. He made some mistakes. That's part of it."

Parsons started alongside Keanu Neal and played together for 48 snaps. With offenses in three-receiver or more sets, the Cowboys will utilize a nickel package that has Parsons and Neal on the field a ton. Over time, that could change depending on how Neal plays and if the Cowboys believe Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch deserve more playing time.

"You know, football's crazy because like it's really just situational," Parsons said. "I wish I could've done more, but some of the situations we were in, whether it's us backed up, or us starting on the wrong side of field position, can't do much and you're kind of limited. When a team got that many weapons and you're in a certain field position, you got to call certain calls. I think I wanted to do more, but very limited day."

Of the four main linebackers, rookie Jabril Cox is not part of the main rotation, Parsons will receive the majority of the snaps.

After the team drafted him, the objective was to get him on the field in as many different down and distance situations as possible. The Cowboys want to use Parsons' speed off the edge and through interior gaps of the offensive line to pressure the quarterback. He's supposed to be a good tackler, so playing a physical game is almost mandatory for him.

"I don't really have trouble reading and reacting," he said. "It's just more of, what we're in, and how we can adjust to what (the offense is) in. I say I'm pretty fast and I have a good understanding of what's going on, it's just, you got to play better."

It's just one game to evaluate but life comes fast in the NFL. Week 2 the Cowboys visit the Los Angeles Chargers where another tight end, Jared Cook (five catches 56-yards on eight targets in win over the Washington Football Team in Week 1) is the next.

But to face Brady, a seven-time Super Bowl champion, was a good first test.

"You learn what separates good quarterbacks from the good and great," Parsons said. "I think some of the decision making, how good he was at getting the ball off, seeing the coverages we were in, I just felt like you could tell he's been in the league for 22 years, I'll say that."

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency

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