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Cowboys rookie report: Leighton Vander Esch named Defensive Rookie of the Month

Checking in on the rookies.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The season was all but over just a few short weeks ago, but now the Dallas Cowboys are atop the NFC East heading into a big battle with the New Orleans Saints on Thursday Night Football. The addition of Amari Cooper has proved to be pivotal for this offense and, as a result, this team is playing its best football of the season.

Dallas saw themselves fall behind early against Washington while we were eating our Thanksgiving dinners, but the team held strong and overcame the adversity en route to knocking off their rival.

It was a great team win. Today, we’ll look at how the rookies performed on Turkey Day. LVE has been his usual self, Gallup continues to be a player to watch, and Connor Williams was on the sideline with injury yet again.

Leighton Vander Esch

Vander Esch was just named the Defensive Rookie of the Month in the NFL.

He had double-digit tackles in every game and a pair of interceptions. He leads the Cowboys in tackles with 119, putting him on pace to pass Dexter Coakley (136) for the team’s all-time rookie record.

Leighton Vander Esch has grown from an impressive rookie into a star for this Cowboys defense. The Boise State Broncos linebacker picked off Carson Wentz and played very well in a big road victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, and then the rookie followed it up with another big game — and interception — against the Falcons in a second consecutive road win. Vander Esch was honored with NFC Defensive Player of the Week in that span, a huge honor for the 19th overall pick.

Vander Esch once again played pretty well on another big stage — this time on Thanksgiving Day against a fierce divisional rival. The rookie linebacker was second on the team in the tackles during the game, with six solo and two assisted stops.

In years past, we have seen this defense fall apart without Sean Lee; however, LVE has stepped up in a big, big way for the Cowboys this season. With Vander Esch playing this well, Kris Richard and Rod Marinelli have a variety of different wrinkles to throw at opposing offenses.

Michael Gallup

Michael Gallup has the makings of a young stud for the Cowboys. The rookie, like any other first-year receiver, has had his ups and downs over the course of his debut season in the NFL. His best game to date came against Washington earlier this season, in which the former Colorado State Rams star recorded three catches for 81 yards and a 49-yard touchdown from Dak Prescott in the loss just before the off week.

The Cowboys then made the bold move to acquire Amari Cooper during the bye week, and the offense has since hit its stride after an initial loss to the Titans. Since the addition of Coop, Gallup had recorded six grabs for 65 yards going into the Thursday game. In the second battle with Washington, Gallup made a pair of catches for 19 yards, including a 12-yard grab.

With defenses likely shifting more and more attention to Cooper, Gallup should have more opportunities to find ways to attack secondaries.

Dorance Armstrong, Jr.

The Cowboys have a bevy of talented defensive linemen — specifically along the edge — on their roster. Now, some of that has been hampered by David Irving and, to a lesser degree, Taco Charlton being sidelined; but nonetheless, the Cowboys have some talent along the front seven.

Among the contributors up front has been fourth-round rookie Dorance Armstrong, Jr. The rook has not been the player to fill up the box score or anything, but the former Kansas Jayhawks star has been a quality player for Rod Marinelli at certain times this season.

Armstrong did not show up in the stat-sheet from Thursday’s win, but he continues to play impressively in spurts. He will likely be a big depth piece along the front as the season progresses.

Dalton Schultz

Fellow fourth-rounder Dalton Schultz has benefited from Geoff Swaim battling injury. The rookie, who had recorded just one catch heading into the bye week, has gradually seen more playing time as the season has continued — starting on Thanksgiving in place of Swaim.

On Thursday, the Stanford Cardinal product only made one catch — that went for a loss for one-yard — but was okay in run blocking, specifically when he helped Zeke make a seven-yard carry against the ‘Skins. The rookie obviously has ways to go. He played 60% of the snaps last week, showing that this staff may give him more opportunities with their veteran tight end treating a broken wrist.

The Cowboys will need big contributions from at least a few of their first-year players in tonight’s game against the New Orleans Saints. Can Leighton Vander Esch grab the third interception that Drew Brees throws this season? Will Michael Gallup take advantage of the Saints focusing on Amari Cooper a little too much?

Thursday night provides some opportunities for the young pups on the Cowboys roster.

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