FRISCO, Texas – Actions speak louder than words, as the cliché goes.
It might be a cliché, but it feels fitting following Thursday's interview with Leighton Vander Esch, where the second-year linebacker was asked if he's dealing with more injuries than he's letting on.
Vander Esch plays one of the most physical positions in a violent sport, and he's paid well to do so. It's understandable if he doesn't want to play up the injury angle. After all, as the other cliché goes, everyone in the NFL is dealing with something.
Even still, when faced with that question, Vander Esch couldn't help but chuckle.
"I guess you could say that," he said. "But I'm the last guy to use that as an excuse."
That's admirable, but again: actions speak louder than words. Vander Esch suffered a stinger during the Oct. 20 win against Philadelphia, and it was severe enough that he missed the Nov. 4 win against the Giants following a bye week.
On Sunday night against Minnesota, he appeared to be limping before briefly leaving the field and returning. He finished the game, but it was enough to prompt this question in the first place.
Still, it wasn't a conversation Vander Esch was interested in having.
"If I'm out there and I'm eligible and ready to play, then I'm ready to go," he said. "I'm the last person that's going to use that as an excuse."
Instead, Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith will be keying on how to improve a defense that got gashed by the run and the screen game last week. The Cowboys allowed 147 rushing yards to Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, not to mention another 86 receiving yards to Cook.
Vander Esch said the Cowboys can benefit from better identifying their keys and setting themselves up better against those plays.
"There's always room for improvement," he said. "They're going to scheme against you and do everything they can to beat you. But you've got to find ways to make plays."
The Cowboys' linebackers have been a lightning rod for criticism to this point in the season, especially following performances like their most recent one. On Thursday, Vander Esch was asked how he manages to block out that noise.
Once again, actions speak louder than words. But until Vander Esch has the chance to take action in another game, he let his words speak pretty plainly for him.
"People can say what they want to say. People have criticized me my whole entire life, so that doesn't make a difference," he said. "If they want to criticize me and make comments and they don't play football, they haven't played the game of football in the NFL, at the professional level, go ahead."