Rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has had quite the journey to the Dallas Cowboys, their 19th overall pick in this year’s draft out of Boise State. The Cowboys drafting another player off the blue turf of Boise was nothing new, but they did make Vander Esch the first player in league history to be drafted from inside his own stadium.
Despite a training camp groin injury that threatened Vander Esch’s rookie debut, Leighton is set to play his first home game on Sunday Night Football against the Giants at AT&T Stadium. Not only will LVE be looking to build off a three tackle performance in 17 snaps against the Panthers, but he could be in line to start at SAM LB over veteran Damien Wilson.
The great and powerful @BryanBroaddus says don’t be surprised if Vander Esch is the starting SAM backer this week against the Giants.
As expected, the Cowboys depth at linebacker is sorting itself out on the field. Even with Sean Lee struggling in week one at his usual WILL position, the Cowboys should feel confident in their defensive leader to bounce back this week against a divisional rival.
Thanks to new Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard, the Cowboys did some different things with their linebackers to open the season, including playing with three on the field more often than in the past. The Giants are typically a team that forces the Cowboys into a ton of Nickel defense, which DC Rod Marinelli is comfortable playing with two LBs on the field.
With RB Saquon Barkley in the backfield now though, the Giants are more balanced on offense, meaning the Cowboys could certainly have a use for a SAM linebacker like Vander Esch.
The strong side linebacker position is typically reserved for a physical player that can beat blocks and set the edge against the run, but this isn’t the model the Cowboys have gone with here. Opening the door for LVE to play an expanded role in Sunday’s game, Damien Wilson is much more of a read and react LB with speed and range at SAM.
His struggles against the Panthers power rushing game and read option were noticeable last week, as the Cowboys also gave LB snaps to Justin March-Lillard and Joe Thomas behind Lee and Jaylon Smith.
Here is a play with Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch all on the field at the same time.
Make no mistake that the Cowboys and Giants are fighting for relevancy to end Sunday’s slate of games, already behind a loaded field of NFC contenders at 0-1. The Cowboys know they did more than enough on defense to win in Carolina, and now their historically young roster must overcome inexperience on offense to play a full 60 minutes.
If it’s at all possible for the Cowboys defense to assist their offense even further, heavily criticized 19th overall pick Leighton Vander Esch is going to have his say for better or worse. This is what the Cowboys signed up for when drafting for need in the first round, finding themselves with an immediate need at linebacker if they have any hope of slowing down the Giants.