Leighton Vander Esch had his 2019 campaign cut short due to a neck issue that required offseason surgery. Now, the former All-Pro linebacker is fully recovered and feels he's better than he ever was, as he explained on a conference call Thursday:
“I've been training for three or four months hard,” Vander Esch said. “I've got all of my strength back. I'm back and better than I was as far as strength before I got hurt. So, everything is going great there and I feel amazing. I'm just excited to be on the field.”
Vander Esch will sport a slightly different look as far as his shoulder pads go in 2020:
“I have a smaller roll inside my actual pads now too, to help with, I guess you could say ‘shock,'” Vander Esch explained. “But as far mobility and everything, I still have all my mobility, being able to look around with my helmet, no problems there. Just a small adjustment with the roll.”
His shoulder won't be the only thing that's different this season. Vander Esch will see a tweak to his role in the Cowboys defense as he's being switched to middle linebacker, pushing Jaylon Smith to weak side or will linebacker. Now, Vander will be in charge of making the defensive calls but his new role is pretty similar to his old one:
“In today's age of playing football, mike and will are pretty much identical,” Vander Esch said. “I guess if you want to call me the mike, you can call me the mike and Jaylon obviously is playing the will.”
He would go into further detail on the topic:
“Obviously, he might get pulled out the box a little more and the mike stays in the box a little more. But as far as techniques and how you play, they're the same thing.”
If he had any doubts or concerns after his neck procedure they're a thing of the past as he takes on this new role:
“I feel amazing,” Vander Esch said. “That's all behind me. I'm not worried about my neck anymore.”
When Mike Nolan was hired as defensive coordinator he made it known that the Cowboys defense would have variety as his hybrid scheme would feature three and four-man fronts. Vander Esch echoed those sentiments when asked about the new scheme on Thursday:
“Just with all the variety and the disguises, I think it's going to be special for us this year,” he said. “I think it's going to create a lot of opportunities for turnovers.”
The Cowboys had high expectations last season after winning the NFC East in 2018 but failed to make the playoffs at 8-8. Vander Esch feels the mindset has to be adjusted if the Cowboys are going to get where they want to go in 2020.
“We've got to stop talking about it and start doing it,” he said. “It's as simple as that. Not get too far ahead of ourselves. Just taking it one week at a time, just holding everybody accountable, being vocal on the field, being able to get everybody lined up on the field. If someone is messed up, I'm going to get him right. If something is wrong in the locker room, get it right, and fix it. Don't put things off. Don't brush things off.”
The Cowboys linebacker trio is set once again with the “Wolf Hunter” ready to lead the pack. A surgically repaired neck and a new defensive scheme could see Vander Esch return to his 2018 All-Pro form.