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PSU defense ‘reaping the benefits’ of an improving Parsons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State freshman Micah Parsons hasn’t logged a start in his collegiate career. Yet, 10 games into this 2018 season, he leads the Nittany Lions in total tackles.

Parsons, who last December became the top-ranked recruit to sign with Penn State since 2005, has seen action at linebacker in every matchup while sharing reps with starter  Koa Farmer, a fifth-year senior. He led the Nittany Lions with seven tackles against Wisconsin and now has 58 tackles on the season, just ahead of redshirt junior linebacker Jan Johnson (56).

“He just keeps getting better,” Penn State coach James Franklin said Saturday.

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Harrisburg (Pa.) High School product has tallied at least seven tackles in four consecutive contests. Parsons secured at least four tackles in nine of his first 10 Nittany Lions matchups.

He took the bulk of snaps Saturday during a 22-10 victory over the Badgers, and his sustained presence was well-documented in the press box and Nittany Lions locker room.

“I think he is a lot more comfortable and he is playing a lot smarter,” senior safety and defensive captain Nick Scott said. “He is extremely talented, extremely fast and athletic and everything like that. It took him a little bit to rely on his intuition and his reads rather than just his legs. So now he is doing both, and we are reaping the benefits because he is a phenomenal athlete and he is just playing within the framework of the defense much better.”

Parsons’ progress has established increased accountability with defensive coordinator Brent Pry, who also serves as linebackers coach.

“He just continues to build trust in the coaching staff. … Pry puts a lot of emphasis on trust,” Franklin said. “Trust with the defensive players, with what we run. He’s obviously very talented, and he obviously has a lot of trust built up in Koa Farmer and the amount of time they’ve been together, as well. Micah just keeps earning that every single day. More and more trust by how he’s going about his business.”

That extends beyond the field, according to Franklin.

“He’s been killing it academically since he’s been here,” Franklin said. “But, just our approach, how we do things, how we meet, how we conduct ourselves, he’s just getting better every single day. So he continues to build trust with Coach Pry off the field in all those areas in terms of preparing himself like a pro and not just relying on his ability. That’s what you’re seeing as the season is going on. That was part of the plan to allow his reps to spike up.”

Parsons, who earned a spot on the 247Sports Midseason True Freshman All-American Team, should continue to see his role expand, in 2018 and into upcoming years. He dominated as a high school defensive end, earning a scholarship offer from Penn State during Franklin’s first season with the program (2014), and his transition to linebacker has been monitored closely since university enrollment last winter.

“I don’t think there’s any question that Micah could play D-end,” Franklin said in October. “We had an opportunity where we had a little bit more depth at D-end, and we had more questions at linebacker and felt like he could answer some of those questions, and he wanted to do it.”

Parsons has picked up half of a sack (vs. Ohio State) to this point. As the elements of his arsenal continue to mesh more seamlessly and Pry’s game plan adapts accordingly, expect him to make a greater impact as a pass rusher.

Regardless of his technical status as a second-teamer, Parsons’ importance to this Penn State defense becomes clearer each week. A strong finish to the Big Ten schedule should put him firmly in the mix for postseason Freshman All-American consideration and further raise the bar for expectations entering 2019.

“His ceiling, the sky’s the limit for him,” Nittany Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye said. “As long as he just keeps working hard and keeping his head down, I think he’s going to be special.”

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