Leighton Vander Esch has become the Cowboys’ forgotten linebacker

AP

Jaylon Smith won the Cowboys’ Ed Block Courage Award at the team’s charity kickoff luncheon Wednesday afternoon. It was something of a miracle that the linebacker even played last season.

But now, without the AFO drop-foot brace, Smith looks like the All-American he was at Notre Dame before the devastating knee injury in his final game for the Irish.

“When no one ever thought I’d play the game of football again, I was able to play all 16 games last year and contribute at a high level,” Smith said Wednesday. “But I’m back now, so my role has increased tremendously.”

If the Cowboys had seen this Smith before the draft, maybe they wouldn’t have taken Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch in the first round. But Smith’s play also has kept Vander Esch’s absence from being a bigger deal.

The Cowboys’ athletic trainers have seen more of Vander Esch than the coaches have since he arrived four months ago. He injured his ankle and missed the end of OTAs and all of the minicamp. Now, Vander Esch has a groin injury that has kept him out since the first preseason game and could sideline him for the season opener.

“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.”

The Cowboys are in no hurry to rush Vander Esch back, with Sean Lee, Smith, Joe Thomas and Damien Wilson providing star power and depth at the position.

“The great news is that’s a position on our team where we feel really good about our depth, maybe better than we’ve ever felt,” Jones said. “We’ve got six to seven linebackers there that can not only play special teams on the back end, they can actually play linebacker in a game, and we feel good about it.”

18 responses to “Leighton Vander Esch has become the Cowboys’ forgotten linebacker

  1. DE & LB are the 2 biggest positions of improvement
    Our secondary ranks a very close 3rd

    The LB position stands out because without Gen Sean Lee on the field, we still are very solid in play production

    I’d say LB is our best currently
    Especially with our O line woes, (Fredbreard)

    Get well soon LVE & help solidify our front 7 just all that much more

    Great job Wilson, Thomas & Covington for doing excellent work with so little praise celebrity-wise

  2. Good for Jaylon Smith. He has put in the work and persevered over a gruesome and dire injury situation. Cheers to a good 2018 season!

  3. Steelers fan so I dont have much room to talk.. was hoping we drafted this kid. It almost sounds like a good thing we didn’t. This many injuries already would really concern me. I think he had a neck injury in college too.

  4. The Steelers wish they had him or Evans instead of reaching hard for a 3rd round safety.

  5. I’m not down on Vander Esch but I would have liked to see the Cowboys address safety or DT with that first pick. The Cowboys gamble with Smith definitely appears that it will pay off big. Also hoping that they won’t overpay for Thomas should Seattle decide to move him. Great player but wouldn’t give up more than a 3rd for him at this point in his career.

  6. Happy for Jaylon. Between Smith, Lael Collins, and Gregory the Cowboys picked up some incredible talent with equally amazing risk and its paying off now. But the LB pick this year was just silly. It was the worst pick in the first round this year.

  7. I know the clickbait media used the Vander Esch pick to question whether Dallas was concerned about Jaylon Smith, but the truth is that Smith had NOTHING to do with that pick. Dallas lost Anthony Hitchens and needed to replace him in the short term, and it also needed insurance (short and long term) for Sean Lee. Vander Esch addresses both those needs. Hitchens wasn’t an every-down LB, and Vander Esch won’t be either at the start of his career.

  8. I think everyone should give VanderEsch a chance. I emember when Demarcus Lawrence kept having injuries but look at DLaw now.In this day and age, folks have no patience or positivity.

  9. As a draft nut- I had LVE penciled in early as out #1. Of course if James or another LB was avail. Would’ve taken them. They weren’t. This kid will be really good 4 our D. Other than Jaylon, nobody comes close 2 his coverage skills & ball hawking. Patience- many people squawked when we drafted a LB who wouldn’t even play his 1st year & look what we have now. Jaylon may actually have a shot @ DPOY- if everything pans out. He’s special. Patience w/ LVE will payoff in the long run

  10. That’s Derwin James & either Roquan Smith or the other LB (who’s name escapes me) Honestly, I really wanted Da’Ron Payne but didn’t think he’d be there & I was right. None of my draft freak buddies could believe I had it right but I did. Continue doing what ur doing ‘Boys it will pay off like it did w/ Jaylon.

  11. LVE was a damn good pick and he will eventually be the starting MLB and Jaylon will become the WLB or SLB. I am hopeful for Jaylon. The Cowboys have ignored the LB position for years and have hopefully corrected a much needed skill position. I am hopeful the Cowboys will address the DT, OL and safety positions with players cut with the 53 roster cuts.

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