Emergence of Vernon makes Miami’s defense stronger
Olivier Vernon isn’t on the Pro Bowl ballot, doesn’t do a sack
dance and expressed surprise Wednesday to be chosen the AFC
defensive player of the week.
”I’m not a big accolades guy,” Vernon said.
Even so, the Miami Dolphins’ second-year defensive end is
winning acclaim for making their strength even stronger. The front
four is the Dolphins’ deepest, most dominant unit, and Vernon’s no
longer considered a weak link.
He struggled in the first month of the season but has six sacks
in the past three games, increasing his team-high total to 10 1/2,
which is tied for fifth-best in the NFL. In last week’s win over
the New York Jets, Vernon had three sacks and 10 tackles, both
Coming from a player who didn’t start as a rookie last year,
such success has been unexpected. Or maybe not.
”When you watch him in practice, it’s not a surprise to see him
having the success that he had, because he has been a demon in the
one-on-one pass rush since training camp,” defensive coordinator
Kevin Coyle said.
Vernon may benefit from being overlooked. He lines up in the
Dolphins’ 4-3 scheme opposite two-time Pro Bowl end Cameron Wake,
and the pass rush of first-round draft pick Dion Jordan also
distracts opponents. In addition, tackles Paul Soliai, Randy Starks
and Jared Odrick provide plenty of push up the middle.
When they chase quarterbacks toward Vernon, he has been
”I’m just capitalizing on opportunities that come my way,” he
said. ”I just try to get better, make plays for this team and be a
role player. A lot of guys on this team have contributed a lot, and
I’m just trying to add.”
Defense has kept the Dolphins (6-6) in the playoff race. They’ll
go into Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh tied for fifth in the NFL with
37 sacks, which puts them on pace to tie the franchise record.
Opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 72.7, which is
second-lowest in the league. Miami ranks ninth in points
Now Miami is preparing for the pass-happy Steelers and Ben
Roethlisberger, who has thrown for 21 touchdowns and 3,375
”We’ve got to be sound in our pass-rushing lanes,” Vernon
said. ”As long as we can contain him, it will be a good game for
us. But you’ve still got to finish the tackle, because he’s very
elusive and can break out of a lot of tackles.”
If Vernon has been under the radar in previous games, that won’t
be the case against the Steelers, who are well aware of his recent
He’s playing so well he added a half-sack Wednesday, when the
league made a scoring change in last week’s game. That increased
Vernon’s sack total against the Jets to three.
”He’s a high-motor guy, a guy who gets after it,”
Roethlisberger said. ”He’s somebody who is probably not getting as
much attention as he deserves. He’s playing at an extremely high
level right now, and we’re going to have to have eyes and attention
Vernon said much of his improvement has resulted from learning
how to study opponents and teammates. He follows the example of the
veteran Miami linemen, especially Wake, whom he still considers a
”I’m learning from the older guys,” he said. ”I watch film on
those guys even in practice to see what they do, and try to get
better every day. Being better at watching film and taking notes
helps with play recognition – seeing what’s coming your way and
learning what to expect.”
Wake beamed when talking about Vernon’s player of the week
honor, saying it was good to see his teammate thrive.
”I’m happy not just for him, but for selfish reasons as well,”
Wake said. ”To have different weapons to keep offenses on their
heels with guys coming from everywhere, it’s going to help your
team as a whole.”
A third-round draft pick from the University of Miami, Vernon
saw significant playing time off the bench as a rookie last year
and had 3 1/2 sacks. He’s small for an end at 6-2 and 268 pounds,
and there was concern at first about his ability to defend the
But he wins praise for his professionalism, ranging from his
careful eating habits to the consistent effort he puts forth. And
he’s tough to block one on one.
”He’s a slippery guy, and he’s very powerful for what you might
say is an undersized-type pass rusher,” Coyle said. ”He’s not a
big guy. He’s not an overly tall guy, yet he plays with great
leverage, has great strength and has some wiggle to him. He’s just
doing a great job right now.”
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