FRISCO, Texas – He has been discussed plenty but seen rarely in the months since the 2019 season ended.
Leighton Vander Esch changed that Monday, as the Cowboys' third-year linebacker made an appearance on "The 'Boys and Girl Podcast," hosted by NFL Network's Jane Slater.
Vander Esch has been a constant topic of conversation this offseason, which is understandable since he underwent neck surgery on an injury that forced him to sit out the second half of last season.
Asked about his recovery, Vander Esch gave an optimistic review of where he stands right now.
"I feel as good now as I ever have, before I even got hurt. I mean I'm ready to roll," he said. "I've been training full-go for a couple of months now, so it's not holding me back whatsoever. I feel, like I said, just as good as I ever have. I'm just excited to play football at this point and get back on the field."
Vander Esch said he sustained the injury in the Cowboys' 37-10 win against Philadelphia on Oct. 20, when he collided with Jeff Heath and Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert in the second quarter.
"I was going down to tackle him at first, but then I kind of lost my balance when the running back kind of pushed me in my side, and I just got caught in a bad position, and that was pretty much it," he said.
Following the Cowboys' bye week, Vander Esch sat out of the Monday night win against the New York Giants before returning for the loss to Minnesota and the win against Detroit. Despite his best efforts, the problem didn't go away and he wound up not playing another game.
"I tried for those two weeks, and it just wasn't working out very well," he said. "I was trying my hardest, but I couldn't tackle worth a dang, so I figured probably better go get an MRI. And then found out we needed to have surgery."
It sounds like it's all systems go at this point – the only problem is when Vander Esch will get to display his newfound health. In a normal offseason, the Cowboys would be rapidly approaching the start of OTAs. But the obvious circumstances surrounding COVID-19 have delayed that, which puts Vander Esch and his teammates in the challenging situation of preparing with a bit less structure.
"You've got to find a way. You've got to prepare every single day pretty much like the season's going to be on," Vander Esch said. "When it is and whenever we get the green light to go, you've got to be ready to go. So it's just waking up, running, doing as much conditioning as you can, lifting, all that stuff. And then, obviously, we can meet virtually online to go over the plays and all that stuff right now. It's difficult, but we're getting it done."
As it stands right now, it's hard to say when Vander Esch will get his chance to take the field again. But after a full offseason of speculation, it's nice to know he plans on doing so.