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Leighton Vander Esch: "I'm On A Mission"


FRISCO, Texas – Leighton Vander Esch didn't necessarily need to talk about his frustration or his determination, it could all be easily heard in his voice.

The Cowboys' third-year linebacker spoke with reporters Tuesday morning after the conclusion of a disappointing season. It'd have to be especially disappointing to Vander Esch, who only appeared in 10 games after missing the early going with a broken collar bone and sitting out the final two weeks with an ankle sprain.

This comes after the former first-round draft pick missed seven games in 2019 with a neck injury. And if you think Vander Esch has missed the conversation about his durability, you'd be mistaken.

"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," he said.

Vander Esch is on the mend from that ankle sprain, and he said he thought he could have been able to play in a postseason game had the Cowboys won the NFC East. His collarbone is also fine, and he said he hasn't had any problems with his neck all season.

With all of that in mind, it's no surprise to hear that Vander Esch says he's already planning for the 2021 season – and it sounds like he's planning to start in short order.

"I'm going to train my frickin' butt off this offseason," he said. "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."

Inspiring words, but they also come amid plenty of uncertainty. All of the usual changes that accompany an NFL offseason are coming, from potential coaching shifts to roster turnover. And of course, it'd be impossible to predict how 2021 will be affected by the ongoing problem of COVID-19.

Vander Esch said he recognized all of that, but he doesn't want it to affect how anyone handles their preparation.

"Who knows what this offseason is going to look like moving forward, being like last year, but we've got to get things right," he said. "I'm just looking forward to keep improving and keep working my hardest. We've got to have everybody pulling along."

That's a mindset the Cowboys will be hoping plenty of people share with their young linebacker. Asked if he thought his teammates would join him for a full offseason at the facility, Vander Esch said he hoped so.

As for himself, it sounds like he's already got it mapped out.

"I know what I've got to do," he said. "I'm going to set my mind towards it and I'm going to go do it."

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