Cowboys rookie Leighton Vander Esch led the team with 11 total tackles against Jacksonville on just 48 defensive snaps. He also leads the team for the season with 51 tackles through six games.

But it was how the linebacker learned from a mistake against the Jaguars that impressed coach Jason Garrett the most.

Jacksonville’s lone touchdown of the game came on a 34-yard pass from Blake Bortles to Dede Westbrook. Vander Esch stuck with the receiver as he ran across the field toward the right sideline, but let Westbrook get behind him, make the catch and get to the end zone.

“That’s on Leighton,” CBS analyst Tony Romo said.

But when the Jaguars tried to run the same play the other direction on their next series, Vander Esch sniffed out the coverage, along with cornerback Byron Jones and safety Jeff Heath, with Heath coming up with an interception off a deflected ball.

“Smart football player learning from the experiences,” Garrett said of Vander Esch.

Vander Esch’s playing time has increased with veteran Sean Lee out with a hamstring injury. Lee was already impressed entering Sunday.

“For a rookie to be able to handle as much of the reads and to play as clean as he’s played…it’s not easy,” Lee said. “He’s made it look easy.”

Vander Esch and linebacker Jaylon Smith have both excelled while Lee has been out.

“He calls me Lil’ Bro and he’s pretty much big brother to me,” Vander Esch said of Smith. “I’m learning stuff every single day and during the game we’re talking to each other and he’s always there to correct me and get me right on the field.”

Smith said he and Vander Esch are building chemistry on and off the field.

“We’re clicking,” he said. “It’s encouraging because we’re both gong to be around for a long…time.”


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