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Cowboys LB Micah Parsons not surprised by breakout season

Even the most bullish draft analysis of linebacker Micah Parsons would have had difficulty projecting him having the kind of unbelievable rookie season he just completed with the Dallas Cowboys.

Parsons himself wasn’t surprised.

“Yes,” he said at Thursday’s Pro Bowl practice at Las Vegas Ballpark when asked if he expected to be this good this fast at the NFL level.

His confidence is topped only by his performance.

Parsons, the 12th pick in the draft out of Penn State, was named the Pro Bowl starter at middle linebacker for the NFC and a first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. He was the only rookie to achieve the latter this season.

The 22-year-old Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, native set a Cowboys’ rookie record with 13 sacks and also forced three fumbles. He’s on his way to a clean sweep of the defensive rookie of the year awards and recently picked up the 2022 Butkus Award, which goes to the NFL’s best linebacker.

Part of his success can be attributed to always believing he was going to be among the elite at his position in the NFL.

“You don’t know it for sure, but with the work you put in and everything you do, you kind of expect to do those type of things and you hope to really do it,” he said. “I’d say throughout the year, I was hoping I’d be here.”

There he was on Thursday, enjoying the fruits of his breakout rookie campaign on a field with some of the game’s biggest stars.

Parsons knows he belongs right there among them. He is enjoying the festivities.

On Wednesday night, he was one of eight NFC players to participate in the Pro Bowl Skills Challenge. A smile rarely left his face throughout Thursday’s first practice for Sunday’s game.

“It’s been great,” he said. “ I’ve been meeting some great guys. I’m really having the time of my life out here. Honestly getting to learn football a little more from some of the guys.”

Like most players in the Pro Bowl each year, he’d rather not be here.

Parsons believed the Cowboys had a good chance to be playing in the Super Bowl next week, but they were upset by the 49ers in the divisional round.

Despite all of his individual success, that heartbreak will be his lasting memory of his first NFL season.

“I’ll remember that we lost in the first round,” he said. “I have to hold that next to me and get ready for next year. The expectation is to make it back to the dance. Get back to the playoffs and go way further than we did this year. That’s the standard. None of us were OK with the way we went out.”

After some speculation about whether the Cowboys would be pursuing that goal with a new head coach, it appears Mike McCarthy will be back on the sidelines for Dallas.

Parsons is pleased with that decision.

“It’s tough (to hear those rumors) because I have a lot of love for Coach Mike,” he said. “He’s a (Pennsylvania) guy. Really honest, hard-working guy. A really good players’ coach. But you always have to be prepared because you know it’s a business at the end of the day.”

All the praise Parsons received for his outstanding season was much easier to hear, but he insists it went in one ear and out the other.

If he wasn’t going to listen to the doubters before the draft, he certainly wasn’t going to listen to many of those same people heap compliments upon him now.

“None of that means anything,” he said. “Everybody had me down and out. They didn’t know why the Cowboys drafted me. So the praise now doesn’t mean anything either. But it’s up to me to keep putting in the work and keep getting better.”

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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