Leighton Vander Esch officially signed a four-year, fully guaranteed $11.8 million deal with the Dallas Cowboys at the conclusion of Friday's first day of rookie minicamp.
He has no idea what he plans to purchase first. But that's far from his mind.
It’s a wonder that the former Boise State linebacker had enough time to slow down to sign the contract at all.
It’s been quite the whirlwind for Vander Esch since being picked No. 19 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft two weeks ago.
The slow pace of the rookie minicamp, which is more a walk through and on-field teaching than a full-speed practice, was a welcomed change for him.
He admittedly doesn’t have an off button and his mind has been racing 100 miles an hour in hopes living up to the pressure and expectations of his draft status.
“It’s hard for me to relax,” Vander Esch said. “At this point, expectations are so high there is no time to relax. There are no days off. You have to keep trucking away.”
Now don’t misconstrue, Vander Esch was excited to put his Cowboys jersey on the first time and officially take the practice field with his fellow rookies.
But he has used the two weeks since the NFL Draft to get back on the field and study the playbook so he could hit the ground running at camp.
“It’s kind of hard to slow it down,” Vander Esch said. “It’s been fast pace everything. Now, it’s make sure you got a hang of things. I will play wherever they need me. I take pride in that … knowing that the coaches have big expectations for you, you have to live up to them.”
The Cowboys certainly like what they have seen so far even if it’s just him walking around and through the drills at a slow pace.
“He certainly carries himself the right way,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He picks things up quickly. He understands what we are asking him to do and goes out there and does it comfortably. We did get to see him move around a little bit and he looks like the guy we drafted.”
Vander Esch will likely start at middle linebacker but more importantly, he will be part of a rotation with weakside linebacker Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith to get the most out of those two positions.
The Cowboys expect him to have an immediate and definitive impact. Their love for him and his potential, which began with linebackers coach Ben Bloom as far back as the combine, has only grown with his presence at camp.
Vander Esch said Bloom began sending him defensive schemes and things to work on since before the draft.
And it was Bloom who sold defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who couldn’t stop gushing over the possibilities with the 6-foot-4, 256-pound Vander Esch roaming the middle off the field.
Marinelli was not bothered that Vander Esch started just one year of college and played 8-man football in high school. He said the tools are there.
“His is length is exceptional,” Marinelli said. “He is tall. He is really rangy. Great in zone. Closes all windows. He’s got the balance and instincts. He plays the run well. He plays extremely hard. And he is very, very bright. He’s got good traits.”
Asked if he had a linebacker with his height before, Marinelli continued to gush with praise.
“[Chicago Bears Hall of Famer] Brian Urlacher was really tall,” Marinelli said. “But [Vander Esch] bends, he moves. He is really fluid. Now Brian was a safety in college. (Vander Esch) is kind of like a big safety athletically. That’s what you really look for."
Marinelli also compared him to former Cowboys middle linebacker Rolando McClain who, like Urlacher, was strong against the pass.
He said Vander Esch is the perfect zone linebacker for his defense and they saw that on tape at Boise State.
Being tough against the pass down the middle of the field is important for the Tampa Two scheme he has long employed.
“It’s big,” Marinelli said. “And being a great zone linebacker … there’s deep stuff. He can break on the ball and he has the reach. That is going to help us. He is going to get some tips. You can see the range which we like.”
Cleary the Cowboys like a lot in Vander Esch.
It’s little wonder Vander Esch has no time to rest. He has big expectations to fulfill.
But none bigger than his own.
Don’t look at it as him being overwhelmed, just focused, motivated and prepared.
“You have to be able to adapt quick no matter what,” Vander Esch said. “That is the kind of person you have to be. There is always pressure to perform. There is more of it on this level. But not so much that you don’t perform. I have high expectations for myself to go out there and make the most of my dream and this opportunity.