Blocked Field Goals Becoming A Habit For Miami

Posted Nov 9, 2012

Rookie Vernon made it happen two weeks in a row.

This already was a special season for the special teams unit on the Miami Dolphins before last week’s game at the Indianapolis Colts, but rookie defensive end Olivier Vernon made it more special near end of the first half.

When Vernon hurdled the two Colts blockers in front of him and stormed up the middle to get a hand on Adam Vinatieri’s 54-yard field goal attempt, he accomplished something that had not been done in more than a decade. It was his second blocked field goal in as many weeks, marking the first time since 1998 that the Dolphins had blocked a field goal in back-to-back games.

“I didn’t know that,” said Vernon, who also recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown in Miami’s 30-9 win at the New York Jets on October 28th. “All week we prepare for moments like that in practice and when it comes game time we all know our job and what we have to do. So as soon as we get into the heat of things it’s kind of easy because your mind’s clear and you’re not even really thinking about it. All you have to do is get off the ball and make a play.”

Perhaps former Dolphins Kenny Mixon and Shane Burton can relate to what Vernon is saying as they were the last ones to do it in consecutive games while wearing the aqua and orange. Mixon blocked Norm Johnson’s 47-yard attempt on September 20th, 1998 in a 21-0 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers and after a bye, Burton blocked John Hall’s 44-yard attempt at the New York Jets in a 20-9 loss.

Just the fact that it’s been 14 years proves how difficult it really is to break through the line and get even one hand on the ball after it leaves the kicker’s foot. The odds seem to increase with the distance of the kick, as kickers tend to go with a lower trajectory, but as special teams maven Jason Trusnik explains, it takes a group effort and it starts with special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi and assistant special teams coach Dave Fipp.

“Part of it is the schemes that Rizz and Fipp come up with, but when you get down to it, it’s 11 guys on that thing,” Trusnik said. “They don’t care who it is and they don’t care what job they’re doing. Whether it’s to blow somebody up to get somebody else three or whether you’re on the back side just blowing somebody up or rushing off the edge, it’s 11 guys going all out.

“That kicker gets the ball off in less than two seconds so it’s all about getting off the ball at the snap and trying to get free and fortunately for him, Olivier got free twice. But it’s not just on him, it’s Randy Starks and Paul Soliai and Jared Odrick getting push up the middle and Jimmy Wilson coming off the edge and linebackers pushing. It’s a combination of everybody just going all out for a split second.”

Now that the Dolphins have shown on film the ability to get pressure on the kicker and get their hands on the ball, they can use it to their advantage in the second half of the season. Trusnik mentioned how just that threat can alter the approach taken by the kicker and make him think about kicking it higher or hooking it away from the guys coming up the middle.

Head Coach Joe Philbin has a lot of faith in Rizzi and Fipp and what they are doing with the special teams, which is why he was okay with the onside kick that was executed in the first quarter at the Jets and the fake punt that worked from his own 40 against St. Louis. He sees the potential benefit down the road to Vernon’s two blocked kicks and what it does to the opposing kicker.

“Hopefully, maybe it speeds up his time clock a little bit,” Philbin said. “You hope and that might let him push the ball one way or the other, if he would be so kind. Yeah I think it’s good to have on film, but how much it impacts the game, I’m sure the opposition is spending maybe a hair more time in protection and showing those clips to their team. ‘Hey you guys we’ve got to be solid. These guys come hard, they come low, they’ve got some athletes there.’ If you watch our film, Dave Fipp, that’s kind of his baby. There’s good energy on that team. Guys are giving effort to go up and block a kick.”

Kick returner Marcus Thigpen gets to see all the work that gets done in practice and he traces the recent successes directly to the energy Rizzi brings to the field. It’s contagious, and Thigpen agrees with Trusnik and Philbin as far as how opposing kickers will react going forward and he takes some credit for getting into Vernon’s head before the last game.

“I actually talked to him before the game and told him that not too many people have blocked a field goal two weeks in a row and he took that as a challenge,” Thigpen said. “He blocked another one and told me, ‘Don’t ever tell me I can’t do something twice in a row,’ and that’s how a lot of our guys are. If we’re told something hasn’t been done before we take that as a challenge and go out there and make it happen. The adrenaline comes all from Coach Rizzi. He keeps us going.”

Vernon will try to make it a hat trick Sunday at Sun Life Stadium when the Tennessee Titans come to town.

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