Much of the success that the Dallas Cowboys could have on defense this season rests on the shoulders of what happens at the middle level of their defense. That definitely includes a bounce-back year for third-year linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.
LVE arrived with force during his rookie season of 2018 but saw his sophomore campaign hindered by injuries. With the regular season just five weeks away, many are wondering what the Cowboys could be getting from him, especially under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.
We spoke to Leighton’s agent Ron Slavin over the offseason on the BTB podcast feed and he talked at length about how much Nolan loved Vander Esch while he was the linebackers coach for the New Orleans Saints. Given that he now gets to work with him in Dallas, there is hope that the marriage can be a prosperous one.
Leighton Vander Esch will play more middle linebacker in 2020
While it would have been fascinating to watch former Cowboys coach Matt Eberflus get to work with Vander Esch, he has instead worked with Darius Leonard of the same draft class in Indianapolis. The idea of Nolan with LVE is also interesting. Much of that interest revolves around where Coach Nolan wants to use him and on Thursday we learned that that involves the middle of the defense. Get ready for LVE at the MIKE.
LVE said he'll play more middle linebacker in 2020. He said the weakside LB and MLB spots are similar in what the Cowboys do with their defense.— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) August 6, 2020
The MIKE and WILL spots are similar to a degree so it’s not like this is a difference of a gigantic variety for the Cowboys. Still, seeing Vander Esch in the heart of the defense is a great thing and it will allow Jaylon Smith to blitz more. Overall, this feels like the best possible usage of the talents on that side of the ball.
Obviously Vander Esch’s health is the most critical factor here as it is what plagued him last season. While speaking to reporters he also noted that he is feeling completely healthy which is very exciting.
Leighton Vander Esch said he is fully recovered from neck surgery he had in January and does not believe it will be an issue as he moves forward. Vander Esch played in only nine games last season before going on injured reserve. He has added a smaller neck roll under his pads to help with “shock.” “I’m back better than I was with my strength before I got hurt,” he said. “I feel amazing. Just excited.”
These Zoom meetings are obviously how players are being interviewed before the season and so a number of topics were touched on here with Vander Esch. While his health and where he will play do seem to be the most prevalent, he also talked about life at The Star and amid social distancing, plus he noted that he wants to be more of a leader this year.
For a guy who just said "I just don’t like talking about it, I like freaking going out there and doing it"...Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch had plenty of talking about it today https://t.co/FooZOIm17G— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) August 6, 2020
Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch said he wants to assume more of a leadership role in third season. "Just holding everyone accountable." Can mean helping teammates line up on field or quickly addressing issues that arise off it.— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) August 6, 2020
There will be those who want to reserve excitement until the product on the field matches the hype for it, but this is all really good to hear. Vander Esch is saying all of the right things right now, and at the very least, that is one function of leaders. Dallas lost a number of them this offseason (Jason Witten, Travis Frederick, and Byron Jones) and are looking for new ones among the younger group that has come in and established themselves.
The Wolf Hunter is back.