Stopping Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers takes a collective effort, and the Dallas Cowboys will need to play great defensively Thursday night to have a chance in the NFL’s season opener. The good news for Dallas? One of Dallas’ most talented defensive players has literally never felt better as a pro — Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch is ready to go.
Leighton Vander Esch healthy to start 2021 NFL season
Vander Esch, the former first-round pick who has missed 17 games due to injury the last two years, did more this offseason than get healthy. He spent the past eight months retraining his body to deal with its underlying issues.
Vander Esch missed time with a broken collarbone in 2020. But his real impediment has been chronic neck issues that date back to college. Even a minor procedure to repair nerve repair in late 2019 didn’t completely fix them.
But he insists the pain and immobility are largely gone. A training regimen designed by Metroplex-based fitness instructor Chad Marr deserves much of the credit.
“He’s still a Lamborghini,” Marr, owner of Marr Strength, told Pro Football Network this week ahead of Thursday’s big game. “He just needed an alignment.”
That alignment included reversing years of abuse done to his quads and hips. His neck issues were the symptoms; Vander Esch’s hips were the cause. His hips were painfully overloaded when he started working with Marr, due to his quads being locked up.
Spending time this offseason with fitness instructor Chad Marr
Marr went to work on unlocking them with what he dubs the Matrix Training System — a structured program “designed to create flexibility, coordination, stamina, and strength.”
Marr’s goal is to “reverse chronic pain and joint-related issues by identifying weak areas through movement and training to correct those weaknesses through a series of structured program templates.”
With Vander Esch, the results have been dynamic.
“He looks great,” Marr said. “He’s moving better. His mobility has increased dramatically. Last time he was here a week ago, he told me. ‘I didn’t know how crappy I felt until after I started seeing you.’”
Marr believes that by reprioritizing Vander Esch’s training program, he not only fixed old issues, he also helped prevent future injuries from occurring. The NFL is a violent sport, and some breaks and tears are unavoidable. But Marr believes many others are.
Contract year upcoming for Vander Esch
Vander Esch’s future success relies heavily on that theory. There’s no questioning his ability, only his availability. That’s why the Cowboys declined to pick up his fifth-year option, setting him up for free agency in 2022.
They also significantly addressed the position this offseason by drafting Micah Parsons in the first round and signing Keanu Neal, further telegraphing that their plans might not include LVE.
But Vander Esch, who made the Pro Bowl in 2018 with a 140-tackle rookie season, is still just 25 years old and has logged fewer than 1,800 snaps in his career. There’s plenty of tread left on that Lambo’s tires.
Improved strength, speed, and mobility should help him cover and tackle better — two things that are a must for any team hoping to slow down Brady.
“If he was good before, he’s going to be really good now,” Marr added.