Giants LB Olivier Vernon struggling after ankle injury
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — When the New York Giants started playing games in the preseason, it seemed linebacker 0livier Vernon was going to have a monster season in coordinator James Bettcher’s new 3-4 defensive scheme.
Every time the ball was snapped Vernon disrupted plays. He stopped runs and got sacks and pressures on opposing quarterbacks.
A couple of days before the preseason finale against New England, Vernon suffered a high sprain to his left ankle, and his season has turned into a major disappointment.
The seven-year veteran missed the first five regular-season games and didn’t return to action until a start against the Eagles on Nov. 11. The Giants were 1-4 at that point and things only got worse as New York dropped the next three games heading into its bye.
While Vernon played well against the Eagles, he has not done much statistically this season. He has one sack, 10 tackles and six quarterback hits in six games. Against Tampa Bay on Nov. 18, he was flagged for three penalties in a span of one snap: two neutral zone violations and a roughing the passer.
It’s not what is expected of a player making $17 million this season, the second-highest salary on the team.
“You work hard before every season coming up and it’s just one little bump in the road, and all I can do right now is just the normal game plan, be out there for my team and make the plays that come to me,” Vernon said Friday after the Giants (3-8) practiced for Sunday’s game against the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears (8-3).
Vernon insists he is 100 percent healthy, although he said getting back into football shape has taken time. He was able to do some cardio work while hurt, but it took time to get his legs back.
The Giants have missed him in the pass rush. They have 14 sacks this season, second lowest in the league. Vernon’s one sack is on pace to be a career low. He had 3 1/2 in his rookie season of 2012 with Miami. In his previous two seasons with the Giants he had 15, including 6 ½ last year despite missing four games with another ankle injury.
“He’s just like every player on our team,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “Just keep battling, keep playing to make a difference. He can be a disruptive force, we all know that.”
Shurmur said Vernon has been making plays. He is just not getting the sacks.
Vernon notes that Sunday will be a test because the Bears are playing well. They are not making mistakes and are forcing turnovers. They even won last week with veteran quarterback Chase Daniel starting for Mitchell Trubisky, who was sidelined with a shoulder injury.
Trubisky was limited at practice this week and is doubtful for Sunday. Daniel is expected to start at MetLife Stadium.
“One thing is you just have to get back there, you have to make him feel the pressure and kind of force them into making errors,” Vernon said. “We know he can make plays with his arm, and he can also make plays with his feet as well. They have a lot of fast, skilled guys out there that just can make plays when it’s needed.”
If Vernon does not start making big plays, the Giants might consider releasing him. He signed a five-year, $85 million contract in 2016 with $52 million guaranteed. He will carry a cap hit of $19.5 million in each of his final two seasons.
“Right now I’m focusing on the Bears and whatever happens, happens,” he said. “All I can do is focus on what I have to do.”