When Leighton Vander Esch was a young linebacker with NFL aspirations, first while playing eight-man football in Riggins, Idaho, then at Boise State, he used to study the play of Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner. Now, after recording 140 tackles in his rookie season with Dallas, Vander Esch can call Wagner his teammate for a week as the two take part in the 2019 Pro Bowl in Orlando, and the Cowboys rookie couldn't be more excited to share a huddle with Wagner.
"He's been my favorite linebacker in the NFL forever, so I've obviously watched a lot of film of his now, but growing up watching him play and everything, he was one of the biggest role models of my life," Vander Esch said. "… To play next to him in the Pro Bowl, I can't believe it. It's awesome."
Seahawks.com caught up with several NFC Pro Bowlers to get their opinions of the three Seahawks in Orlando this week, quarterback Russell Wilson, punter Michael Dickson and Wagner. Here are some of the highlights of what was said about the Seahawks Pro Bowlers:
DALLAS COWBOYS LINEBACKER LEIGHTON VANDER ESCH
On Bobby Wagner: "He's a tremendous athlete and I think even a better person. Just being able to talk to him ever since I kind of got to know him after the Dallas games in the playoffs. We talked a little bit, we traded jerseys, just got to know each other a little bit better, but I mean he's an awesome guy. I've watched a lot of his film and K.J.'s (Wright) film. Those two guys are what you want to be, so anything you can take from them. He's always there, if you have a question for him he's right there to answer it, he's not scared to give you anything. He's a great guy."
On being teammates with Wagner this week: "It's hard to describe. It's weird just being around these guys now and being able to play with them. But you're playing with the best of the best athletes around the NFL right now. To get to play with him, like Anthony (Barr) and all them, Ryan (Kerrigan) from the Redskins, you couldn't ask for a better group. We've got a great linebacker corps here."
CHICAGO BEARS RUNNING BACK/RETURN SPECIALIST TARIK COHEN
On Michael Dickson: "He's great. He's not one-dimensional with his punts. He's very versatile. Usually you can read the punter's ball pretty well. With him you never know what you're going to get. He has all the tricks in his bag. That's why he's great at what he does."
On if it Dickson's versatility changes how a returner does things: "Definitely, you have to be more careful against him because you don't know where the ball's going to go, how it's going to travel, so you have to play it smart and just think about fielding the ball and not even think about returning it yet."
On Russell Wilson: "He's great. He's a leader no matter which guys he's with, you can tell that by being out here, telling us to get in and out of the huddle. You can just tell he's savvy vet and just an all-around pro."
On Bobby Wagner: "Energetic guy. He's always talking a little trash across the line. He's got some swagger about him, too; I saw he had the Seattle-colored Jordan cleats on. I like those."
CHICAGO BEARS DEFENSIVE END AKIEM HICKS
On Russell Wilson: "He's an awesome player. Russ is awesome, man. I was giving Russ a lot of crap because he's ran out of four (of my) sacks since 2013, right? So about five, six years. He owes me one. I wish he was on the other side so I could get one. But I'm excited to play with him, man. He's a great quarterback, he's a leader, he knows how to get out of the pocket, he knows how to put the ball downfield. He's a great quarterback in this league.
"He's going to give you a hard time out there any time he's on the field, so you've just got to be able to collect him; get him in the pocket, get guys on both of his sides and in his face, and make it hard for him to throw."
MINNESOTA VIKINGS RECEIVER ADAM THIELEN
On Russell Wilson: "Being with him last year at the Pro Bowl and knowing him the last few years, first of all he's a great guy off the field, and then what he's able to do on the field is incredible. When you're watching him play, when you're playing against him, you never know what you're going to get. There's always going to be an opportunity for a big play when he's on the field. So, tons of respect for him on and off the field and it's been pretty cool the last couple years playing with him here at the Pro Bowl."
Three words to describe Wilson: "Cool, calm, and collected."
On Bobby Wagner: "I think he's obviously one of the best in the game, if not the best, at his position. The way he plays the game with his energy, his knowledge of the game, there's not really any negatives about his game and that's why he's able to make the plays he does, it's why he's such a big impact player for that defense."
CHICAGO BEARS QUARTERBACK MITCHELL TRUBISKY
On Russell Wilson: "Unbelievable. Russ is unbelievable. It's so fun watching him making plays, running the offense, and it was cool to go against him this year. Just spending time with him this week we're just having a lot of fun. I'm learning from him, picking up little things here and there, watching his footwork, how he delivers the ball, his eye progression, where he puts it and everything. I'm just trying to pick up tips to help my game. He's a heck of a player, so I love watching his game. It's really cool to spend some time with him and the rest of the guys."
Three words to describe Wilson: "Leader, playmaker, and baller."
Photos of the 12s and Seattle players interacting with fans at the 2019 Pro Bowl in Orlando, Fla., where quarterback Russell Wilson, linebacker Bobby Wagner, and punter Michael Dickson are representing the Seahawks.