It may have come to a surprise to some outside the organization, but the Dolphins had high hopes for Vernon from the time they made him a third-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft. And it certainly wasn’t anything unexpected from the man himself.
In fact, Vernon is confident it was only the beginning.
“With me, I always have high confidence in myself,” Vernon said. “That’s how you play the game. You play the game with confidence. You need to have a lot of confidence when you’re out there on that field. Even my rookie year I had a lot of confidence out there. I just didn’t play as much as I expected to, but that’s how it is as a rookie.
“Coming into this season, I’ve just got to elevate my game, got to get better than I was last year on certain things. I’m looking forward to it. I wish the season was next month.”
The last thing Dolphins coaches should be concerned about, though, is Vernon getting complacent after his breakthrough season.
“The great thing about OV when you watch the tape, you’re hard-pressed to find guys that run to the football consistently like he does,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. “He’s a great effort player, he’s a team player, he has become a lot more disciplined. His rookie season, there was always that occasional one or two plays a game where he might have not cut a line correctly or missed an opportunity on something, but last year he was on point. He’s got a chance to develop into a dynamic player.”
When Head Coach Joe Philbin was asked about Vernon during the spring, he pretty much offered the same review of Vernon in terms of his nonstop effort.
It’s that work ethic that led, in large part, to Vernon’s success last season. It’s also why he wasn’t surprised by what he accomplished.
“Obviously I was really excited,” Vernon said. “My hard work was paying off and it was showing out there on the field. Pretty much the offseason I was just working on all my fundamentals and getting everything complete as far as my hand technique and stopping the run. As soon as the season started and the results started coming in I was kind of excited about it.”
Vernon’s emergence provided a big boost for the pass rush.
But even now, Vernon somehow gets overlooked because he plays a position where the Dolphins have one of the best pass rushers in the game over the past five years and also have the first defensive player taken in the 2013 NFL draft.
Rest assured Vernon won’t be overlooked this season by opposing offensive coordinators. Truth is, he probably can expect getting more attention.
“I hope not,” he joked. “Nah, I’m playing. It’s all about making your name known out there. Everybody wants to build that respect. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
For Vernon, it’s not so much about the results but about the process.
“My motivation is just competition, just competing,” Vernon said. “I have my own personal goals that I had last year. I’ve just written up some new ones for this year. It’s all about keeping yourself motivated by just competing out there. That’s one thing I just love to do. I love to compete. It’s the style of player (I am). My plays and the actions are going to speak for themselves.”
In that sense, Vernon is a little bit like the greatest pass rusher in Dolphins history, Jason Taylor.
Vernon got to pick Taylor’s brain in the offseason when Taylor spent some time at the Doctors Hospital Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University as a guest coach.
“I was kind of surprised when he came out here,” Vernon said. “I was excited in a way as well. I was excited for him coming into the building. That’s a future Hall of Famer right there. He did so much for this organization and to just pick his brain on anything that he has to dish out and just help us, I was excited.
“(He did) a lot with the hand technique, being able to get the offensive lineman’s hands off you as quick as you can, just recognizing how offensive linemen set, so better play recognition and what to expect before the play starts.”
The kind of advice someone like Taylor can dish out is only bound to help Vernon and the other Dolphins defensive ends.
For Vernon, every little bit can help. And that’s what it’s all about for him, always getting better. And that comes with hard work.
“(The 2013 season) wasn’t a surprise to me because I put in the work,” he said. “When you put that work in, you try to get some good results. This year I’m just trying to do the same thing, trying to get better as a player and a person and as a leader.”