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Cowboys feel “somewhat good” about Leighton Vander Esch playing in Week 1

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The Cowboys linebacker has missed a lot of time with injury.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys selected Leighton Vander Esch as their number one pick in the 2018 draft. As we head into the first game of the season on September 9th, hardly anyone is talking about him. Charean Williams noted this phenomenon in a recent article at Pro Football Talk.

There are a couple of reasons Vander Esch has fallen off the radar, injury and the play of the other Cowboys linebackers.

Since the Cowboys drafted Vander Esch, he’s spent a lot of time injured. An ankle injury kept him out of minicamp, and his groin issue has kept him out of the last several weeks of training camp and preseason games. He won’t be playing in tonight’s game either.

It’s been hard for the fans and the media to get a good idea of just what kind of player LVE is since he’s only played in one preseason game. He looked okay in that one game, but it’s such a small sample size no one can even make way-too-early, knee-jerk projections of “he’s going to be great” or “he’s a total bust” as we like to do. It’s hard to talk about him when there’s not enough information to talk about.

The other reason there isn’t an overwhelming amount of chatter about him and his absence has been the phenomenal work of the linebacking crew in training camp and preseason, especially Jaylon Smith and Joe Thomas. Smith is starting to look like his old self and there are dreams of him performing like he did when he could have been a Top-10 draft pick before blowing out his knee. Joe Thomas has been a steal as a free agent signee, going from afterthought to very valuable reserve. Damien Wilson and Justin March-Lillard add even more depth.

So when will we see LVE again? The Cowboys are optimistic that he will be able to go in Week 1.

“Obviously when they’re missing valuable time, it’s not optimal,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “But at the same time, we know what kind of player he is. We know when he’s ready that he’ll be able to help us.

“We feel at least somewhat good that he can join us back here on next Wednesday and be ready to go back to work full speed for the Carolina game. That’s going to be the important part. Can he go and get prepared? If not, we’ll have to be smart about that.”

If LVE is able to return for that fist game, the question will be where does he fit in the pecking order among the linebackers? Do the Cowboys have enough confidence to make him their third linebacker in the rotation, or will he have to spend time working his way back in while Joe Thomas or Damien Wilson get the call?