Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch could be closer than expected to returning to the Dallas Cowboys.

Head coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday that Vander Esch, sidelined with a broken collarbone, has progressed to the point that he could be a full participant in practice this week. His status for Sunday’s game against the New York Giants is unclear.

“Leighton’s going to do a little more today because it’s a padded practice,” McCarthy said. “In defining a little more, it will be more than the individual drills and we’ll just see how that goes. That’s the plan going in, and we’ll see if he progresses.”

Vander Esch was injured Week 1 in a loss to the Rams. The team expected him to miss 6-8 weeks, and he was placed on injured reserve.

But his increased physical activity and NFL rules this season allowing players to return after missing three games makes it possible the inside linebacker could be on the field Sunday.

“I would say he’s ahead of schedule. He’s definitely champing at the bit to get back, there’s no question about that,” he said. “But obviously there’s medical procedures and process that he must go through and clear. But the doctors and the trainers feel really good about where he is.”

Last week, the Cowboys allowed 49 points and 307 rushing yards to the Cleveland Browns.

McCarthy said the Cowboys will take into consideration how Vander Esch feels on Friday after not putting on football pads for three weeks.