Was able to sit down with Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch, one of the many players the New Orleans Saints had a formal interview with at the NFL Combine. He’s a potential addition to bolster a linebacker group that was devastated by injuries. A healthy A.J. Klein, Craig Robertson, Alex Anzalone, Manti Te’o and Leighton?
Deuce: Leighton, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Coming into Boise State you didn't have the stature or the size you have now, and you measured in at 256 pounds at the NFL Combine. That’s a lot larger than we've seen you at times on your college game tape. Where is your stable play weight?
LVE: I’ve always wanted to weight 250-255. That’s always been my goal weight ever since I started training. I’m going to do anything I possibly can to make sure that I can keep up with everything and the pace of the game. I think my ideal weight to do that is 250-255.
Deuce: Are you also working a nutritionist to work with your diet to help get your weight up and keep it there long term?
LVE: Yep! I mean nutrition is just as much, if not more (important), as weight training. If you’re on a good diet and you’re eating healthy it’s just going to benefit you all around. You’re going to feel more alert, be able to focus more and it all ties in. Sky’s the limit as far as I’m concerned and if you do everything you can in that aspect it just makes the training that much easier.
Deuce: You were the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. Was that something you set as a personal goal entering 2017, and how did you manage to rack up 140 tackles that helped you get that award?
LVE: Honestly, that wasn't even in my mind. Going into it I just knew I had a lot to prove and I had to do everything I possibly could to make sure the team was successful on the field. It just came down to training in the offseason, making sure you’re getting stronger, and that benefits you during the season because if you’re stronger during the season you have more durability and are stronger overall. I knew if I did everything I possibly could to better myself I’d be in a pretty good position.
Deuce: For you, your personal preference, do you like to play in an even (4-3) front or an odd (3-4) front?
LVE: It doesn’t matter to me. I feel comfortable in anything, honestly. I don’t feel out of place in adverse situation or any situation I’m thrown into. I feel like I can fit in either and would prefer one over the other.
Deuce: You’ve shown the athletic ability on tape to flow sideline to sideline, the weight increase is probably helping answer some of the questions for strength, but more than just those tangible/measurable things you have the leadership aspect of it. Do you feel you could take over playcalling duties, and do you consider yourself a leader on/off the field?
LVE: Absolutely, I feel completely and totally confident in my ability to do that. That just comes down to preparing yourself. If you’re going to put the time in to prepare yourself and watch film, study and do what you need to do, that’s going to correlate to the field. You’re going to be able to read and react a lot faster, you’re going to know what’s coming before the ball is even snapped. Just leading on the field, letting the guys know (the play), and taking control of the defense is something I take pride in. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that happens.
Deuce: What do you think is your greatest fundamental weakness going into next year?
LVE: Right now, I’d say playing with better pad leverage. The size I am, 6’4, that can be difficult at times. (I) Just need to be more consistent with pad leverage and putting myself in good positions.
Deuce: One of the positives I like about your tape is for a guy thats relatively inexperienced you seem to be pretty quick with your key and diagnose. Who was the toughest QB you had to face that threw you some things that would confuse you at times and trick you?
LVE: I’d say Josh Allen (Wyoming). He’s a great athlete. I’m not just saying that to be biased with our conference and playing against him. The kid is going to do great things in the NFL, and I have complete and total confidence in that. He can move, he feels pressure in the pocket well and he has a strong arm who can get the ball anywhere he wants to on the field.
Deuce: I kinda baited you into that one, because it’s one of the best games to watch of your tape last year. You get to see you make some mistakes, which is good because we can see how you react to them, and also we get to see you go against a first round quarterback. It was a fun chess match to watch.
LVE: Yup, yup I felt exactly what you just said like i was playing a chess match the whole game. I mean it’s him trying to get you to do what he wants and you trying to get him to do what you want. It was a great game to play against him and there’s a lot of things you can take away from it.
Deuce: Just to confirm, you had a formal interview with the Saints at the combine? Who did you meet with and what did ya’ll discuss? Did they go over concepts/plays with you?
LVE: Yes sir. I met with pretty much their entire staff. It was one of my first meetings (at the Combine). They wanted to know how you think and what you did on the field. The easier you can put that into words (the concepts they are showing you during interviews) the more clear things are. It just puts more confidence in them that they have for you.
Deuce: Are you a 2k or a Madden guy?
LVE: If I had to pick one I’d pick 2K. I’m not big into sports games, but if I had to pick one it would be 2k.
Deuce: Even if you’re not big into sports games, when you get drafted this year are you going to buy the new Madden to play as yourself?
LVE: Ah, it’s a possibility (laugh).
Big thank you to Leighton for taking the time to talk to me. Could be a potential Saints draft pick here in a couple of months. Listen to the interview below.