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Vander Esch Discusses Move To Middle Linebacker


FRISCO, Texas – It sounds like Leighton Vander Esch is the new man in the middle.

There haven't been many details on how Mike Nolan plans to employ his defense in the first year of the Mike McCarthy Era, but the Cowboys' star linebacker provided one on Thursday afternoon.

While speaking to reporters from the team's training camp at The Star, Vander Esch confirmed that he'll be making the move to middle linebacker this season, while Jaylon Smith slides over to his former place on the weak side.

Though, to hear it from Vander Esch, the transition shouldn't be too difficult.

"In today's age of playing football, MIKE and WILL are pretty much identical," he said. "I guess if you want to call me the MIKE, you can call me the MIKE and Jaylon obviously is playing the WILL."

One of the main difference between middle and weak side linebacker comes down to alignments. Moving to the weak side could free Smith up for a more varied role, such as blitzing and covering outside the numbers. Moving to MIKE likely puts Vander Esch in charge of calling the defense, as well as covering the middle of the field – though obviously the responsibilities are similar.

"Obviously, he might get pulled out the box a little more and the Mike says in the box a little more," Vander Esch said. "But as far as techniques and how you play, they're the same thing."

If it sounds vague, it's probably because the Cowboys aren't exactly keen to divulge what exactly their new-look defense will do. But it is interesting to note that, on the two occasions Vander Esch was asked about this new scheme, he brought up similar talking points: this defense will be multiple, and it might not be so obvious.

"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."

Obviously, that could mean a lot of different things, and it'll be tough to put it all together until the Cowboys take the practice field.

Whatever it looks like, it's obvious Vander Esch would rather implement the new defense than discuss it. Having missed half of last season due to injury, he sounds like a man who wants to let his play do the talking.

"This year, we have to stop talking about it and start doing it. It's as simple as that," he said. "Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, just taking it a week at a time and getting everyone on the same page and getting lined up so we can play fast and so we can make an impact on the field and get the ball for our offense."