Leighton Vander Esch insisted in the lead-up to the 2020 season that he was “not worried anymore” about a history of neck injuries, including one that sidelined him for seven games in 2019, but the Dallas Cowboys veteran is now battling another upper-body issue. About halfway through the second quarter of the Cowboys’ Sunday night opener against the Los Angeles Rams, the former Pro Bowler was forced out of action and quickly ruled out as a result of a collarbone injury.

The 24-year-old Vander Esch, who earned All-Pro honors as a rookie, jogged off under his own power for a locker-room evaluation, but the fact he was so quickly downgraded to out for the remainder of Dallas’ season opener signals the former first-round draft pick could be sidelined for an extended period of time. The former Boise State standout endured a neck injury in college and underwent surgery for a separate nerve-related neck issue in 2019.

Vander Esch departing the Cowboys’ linebacker corps could spell even more issues for an already-injury-affected unit. Seventh-year reserve Joe Thomas stepped in for Vander Esch against the Rams, but Thomas had already been penciled in as the replacement for starter Sean Lee, who will miss at least the first three weeks of the season while on injured reserve.

You can follow the action in the Sunday Night Football matchup in our live blog.

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