Dan Quinn experimenting with key defender in new role will get Cowboys fans excited

Dan Quinn has pulled out all the stops at Cowboys training camp.
Jul 27, 2023; Oxnard, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (55) during training
Jul 27, 2023; Oxnard, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (55) during training / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It's been regurgitated countless tiems, but the Dallas Cowboys nailed free agency by re-signing Donovan Wilson and Leighton Vander Esch. For a while, it looked as though both players would sign elsewhere, but the Cowboys swooped in at the eleventh hour and made sure neither defender got away.

While Wilson has missed most of camp with a calf strain, Vander Esch has been present for every practice.

Mike McCarthy praised Vander Esch for showing up to training camp in excellent shape and his command of the defensive huddle. His play has been indicative of that, as he's blown up running plays and held strong in coverage.

That should come as no surprise, though. Entering his sixth year in the league and third in Dan Quinn's defense, LVE is now a grizzled veteran.

Of course, it's never too late for an old dog to learn new tricks. That's exactly what Quinn has done with Vander Esch at camp, as the former Pro Bowler has spent a great deal of time working with the DEs as a pass rusher.

Dan Quinn deploying Leighton Vander Esch as a pass rusher at Cowboys training camp

It's well understood that Quinn likes to get creative with his defenders. The Cowboys' safety trio of Donovan Wilson, Jayron Kearse and Malik Hooker wear many hats in Quinn's scheme, while multiple defensive linemen -- DeMarcus Lawrence chief among them -- are capable of playing across the line of scrimmage.

Still, we're not sure anyone saw this coming.

In a recent article, Albert Breer of MMQB said Vander Esch has "flashed a bunch as a pass rusher," and that he'd look for Quinn to "use him a little more as a chess piece this year."

Vander Esch saw some time on the edge against the Packers last season, though that was by necessity more than anything else as Aaron Jones and Green Bay's rushing attack were gashing the edges of the Cowboys defense.

Make no mistake, Vander Esch will still call the shots on defense. His role may just vary from snap-to-snap depending on the opponent and situation.

It'll be interesting to see how quick Vander Esch adapts to this new role. He only has 3.5 sacks and five quarterback hits in five seasons, but that can be attributed to a lack of opportunities to rush the quarterback.

He's working extensively with DL coach Aden Durde to refine his footwork, hand placement and get-off at the line of scrimmage so it stands to reason he could bypass those numbers in 2023 alone depending on his snap count.

It's likely Vander Esch only sees a handful of snaps per game as a pass rusher, but if it means throwing defenses a different look and adding another chess piece to Quinn's ever-growing board, how could fans not love this?

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