Leighton Vander Esch suffered a season-ending neck injury in 2019, but the Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowl linebacker is ready for a return.
The crowd at AT&T Stadium is roaring when all of a sudden you hear a loud wolf howl bellow from the stadium speakers. Fans turn their attention to No. 55 who places his hands over his facemask and mimics a howling wolf. The Dallas Cowboys have nearly forgotten what that feels like.
Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch started off his promising rookie year as good as you could possibly imagine erasing the doubt anyone had when the Cowboys drafted this talented defender. Vander Esch teamed up with fellow teammate Jaylon Smith to form one of the best young inside linebacker tandems in the entire league.
Vander Esch played in all 16 games as a rookie making 135 tackles, 97 solo, and picking off two passes making way for a Pro Bowl season in only his first year as a pro. He was also voted Rookie of the month in November.
Unfortunately, the affection ally nicknamed “Wolf Hunter” didn’t have such a great second year in the league. The “howls” became few and far in between while there were whispers about how healthy he was.
Coming into the 2018 NFL Draft, Vander Esch was a dark horse first-round pick but had an intriguing blend of size and speed. There were some concerns about a lingering neck issue that didn’t deter the Dallas Cowboys from selecting this tackling machine with the 19th overall pick.
Vander Esch initially injured his neck during a Week Seven contest against the Philadelphia Eagles and was basically shelved for the rest of the season. He was officially placed on injured reserve in late December and had surgery to his injury in January.
So what exactly was wrong with the Wolf Hunter? Vander Esch had a bulging disk along with Cervical Spinal Stenosis, or narrowing of the spinal cord, which led to his decision to have surgery. Interestingly enough, doctors believe that Vander Esch was born with the stenosis.
Leighton Vander Esch recently appeared on “The Boys and Girls Podcast” with Jane Slater and Bobby Belt and declared himself ready to go. Fantastic news coming from the player himself is so much more refreshing than statements put out from the players’ representatives.
Now saying your healthy and getting through practice or games is a whole different story. There is no telling what can happen in this unforgiving contact sport. I do have confidence in modern medicine and I trust what the wolf hunter is saying but being cautious is the route I would take if I had any say in the matter.
I still remember Raiders running back Bo Jackson having to call it a career because of a freak hip injury yet the Miami Dolphins just selected quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with the fifth pick in this year draft only a few months removed from the same injury that ended Bo Jackson’s career.
I am cautiously optimistic that Dallas Cowboys fans will once again hear that familiar “howl” and that Leighton Vander Esch will return to form in the 2020 season and beyond.