One year ago, Leighton Vander Esch was just hoping he would hear his name called on that first day of the NFL Draft.
Nearly 365 days - plus one Pro Bowl, one All-Pro selection, and a Cowboys' rookie record - later, Vander Esch can't believe what has transpired in the last year.
"It's crazy how time flies," Vander Esch said this past weekend at the 105.3 FM Mudbug Bash in Arlington. "It's also crazy how things have worked out the way they have. I've enjoyed every bit of it. I absolutely love it here. I'm living the dream."
And it goes both ways. It's hard to think the Cowboys could've dreamt that Vander Esch would've been this good, this early into his career, as he was in 2018. His team-leading 176 tackles set a Cowboys single-season record for rookies.
So as the Cowboys get ready to find the next crop of players, what is next for Vander Esch? How does he improve on what was an amazing rookie year?
"There's a lot of ways I can improve" Vander Esch said. "Getting off blocks, striking with my length and building coordination with that, getting my foot in the ground and just running and making plays. You've got to be in shape. You've got to be able to run and finish."
And that has somewhat of a double-meaning to Vander Esch. While he's mostly talking about running to the ball and finishing plays, one of the team goals is to finish strong in terms of games and the overall season.
Vander Esch said the playoff loss to the Rams, who rushed for 273 yards against the Cowboys, hasn't been easy to let go.
"It was irritating. That wasn't us," Vander Esch said. "That's not what we represent. We can't put that on film."
Making sure games like that don't happen again, LVE said communication is the absolute key to getting a more cohesive group.
"There's always improvement you can do as a defense," Vander Esch said. "You strive to be the best you can be every single snap. It's making sure you have 11 guys on the same page every snap. Let's not worry about anything else. Let's hone in on this snap. If we're all wrong, we're right – if we're on the same page."
One way to help with that is for Vander Esch to stick close to Sean Lee, his veteran teammate who is returning for a 10th NFL season.
"Oh yeah. I feel like you don't just come across a guy like him," Vander Esch said of Lee. "You have to take advantage of being around a guy like him. Playing linebacker wears on your body. Knowing that he can trust me to do my job. The knowledge he has about the game and the intangibles he brings is unmatched."
With Lee back in the mix, the Cowboys have plenty of front-line experience at linebacker with both Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith. There could be some needs later in the draft to grab some linebacker depth in the final few rounds.
But however this year's draft plays out, don't expect the Cowboys to have a strong need at the linebacker spot.
They took care of that need a year ago.