Micah Parsons should be getting ready for prom, but instead Penn State’s freshman linebacker made his Beaver Stadium debut last Saturday.
There were and will continue to be growing pains along the way as is the case with all freshmen, but given Penn State’s needs at linebacker Parsons enrolled in January and continues impressing while a new position — or two really with the switch from the Mike to the Will — were thrown at him.
Parsons improved “practice by practice” as Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry put it, but making sure they didn’t throw too much at him too soon is all part of a delicate balance they’re trying to strike. By moving Parsons to the Will they alleviated a little bit of the workload and leadership that comes at the Mike, but that process of learning to be a linebacker will continue over the summer as Parsons and the rest of the Nittany Lions get in and watch “teach tapes” the coaching staff put together. Those cut ups will allow the players to see how other linebackers who came before them reacted to certain calls, just another way they can prepare around the clock.
“You can’t go from zero to 60, especially with a guy who hasn’t played the position,” Pry said. “You can’t go and expect him to play like Brandon Bell or like Jason Cabinda did at Will, it’s a work in progress. For him to be successful you tell him what he needs to know right now to be successful in the framework of the defense and kind of ground level. … He learns well. He recognizes what happens to him when the ball is snapped. He understands blocks and leverage and he’s very eager.”
Penn State fans of course were eager to see No. 11 in action, too. Parsons’ picture flashed on the Beaver Stadium video board ahead of the Blue-White game and the crowd cheered along as he was introduced with the rest of his classmates.
James Franklin often speaks about the luxury of being able to redshirt freshmen, something they couldn’t do with a guy like Mike Gesicki because the needs at the position were too pressing. With an impact signee like Parsons, coupled with the team’s needs, the expectations externally can create a lot of pressure. Parsons has dealt with those expectations quite well at every level thus far, but this is still uncharted territory for him.
“I’m excited to see his progression, but I hope people don’t get overly anxious about him because a lot of times when you come in and you have that much fanfare and that much coverage everybody wants you to be the best thing Day 1,” LaVar Arrington said. “The most important thing that he has to make sure that he understands and knows is that this is truly a learning experience, especially the early days. If you’re in a position where you have to play early and you’re learning on the job then you got to do it.”
Pry regularly pulled Parsons aside this spring to try to correct mistakes as they presented themselves. There’s plenty of room to grow for the entire linebacker corps and how this unit shapes up between now and August will have something to do with the progress of No. 11, but he of course won’t be the only one pushing for time and a spot on the depth chart.
“When you have somebody who never played the position there’s always coaching points for him,” Pry said. “You don’t want to take anything for granted. Simple mistakes you want to make sure he understands what happened, whether he was in the right or in the wrong. … If it happens out there let’s talk about it to make sure you understand it. Put that in the back pocket and make sure we got that straight.”