Dallas Cowboys Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch took the league by storm after being picked 19th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. He went on to be selected to the Pro Bowl as well as being named a second-team All-Pro after racking up 140 tackles. However, the last two seasons haven't been as smooth.
Vander Esch missed seven games in 2019 due to a lingering neck issue that required offseason surgery. In 2020, he missed an addition six games with a broken collarbone and a high ankle sprain. Despite the obvious frustration, Vander Esch spoke to reporters on Tuesday and let it be known that his preparation for the 2021 season will begin very soon at The Star in Frisco.
“I'm going to train my frickin' butt off this offseason,” Vander Esch said, via the team's website. “I'm not really going anywhere. I'm going home for two weeks and I'm coming right back. I'm going to be here training all the way through February, March and April. That's just what it is. I'm already looking forward to it. I'm on a mission, and I think all the guys should be too.”
The coronavirus pandemic rocked the entire country last year and completely changed the normal protocol that goes into an NFL season. There's no telling how it will affect things in 2021 seeing as positive COVID-19 tests are still turning up at alarming rates, but “The Wolf Hunter” as he's known is operating with tunnel vision and is focused on coming back better than ever after two consecutive injury-plagued seasons.
“Who knows what this offseason is going to look like moving forward, being like last year, but we've got to get things right,” Vander Esch said. “I'm just looking forward to keep improving and keep working my hardest. We've got to have everybody pulling along.”
Injuries at the linebacker position aren't new to the Cowboys. The elder statesman of the unit, Sean Lee, has dealt with injuries throughout his entire career. There are some that fear Vander Esch is heading down the same path as Lee, and it's not hard to see why with barely over one season worth of games played since his rookie campaign. Vander Esch is aware of the chatter, but he's keeping a positive mindset.
“People can say what they want to say, but it's the game of football and the ones that can be resilient and they can bounce back from that and just keep continuing to grind, day after day no matter what happens, good things are going to happen eventually,” Vander Esch said.
The Cowboys had one of the worst defensive units in team history this season. Some changes need to be made on that side of the ball, and one of the biggest is having Vander Esch on the field making plays instead of being a regular on the injury report.