Vernon Reflects On Breakout Season

Posted Dec 31, 2013

Second-year defensive end led the Dolphins in sacks.

When the Miami Dolphins moved up in last April’s NFL Draft to select lanky defensive end Dion Jordan of Oregon with the No. 3 overall pick, questions arose about what that meant for Olivier Vernon.

One full training camp, preseason and regular season later, Vernon did more than solidify his future with his hometown team.

All the second-year Miami native managed to accomplish was win the starting job opposite three-time Pro Bowler Cameron Wake and break out for a team-high 11.5 sacks. He also finished sixth on the team in tackles with 57 (46 solo) and the University of Miami product was no longer an unknown commodity to opposing head coaches and defensive coordinators.

“I feel like I could have finished stronger,” said Vernon, who earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors after recording three of Miami’s four sacks in a 23-3 win at the New York Jets on December 1st. “That’s something I’ve just got to work on and build on from this year on forward and just get better. Overall as a player I’m going to try to be the best player I can be.”

It’s that humble approach that has endeared Vernon to his teammates, especially to Wake who has served as his mentor. Even though he was held without a sack over the final three games against New England, Buffalo and New York, he already showed he was a force to be reckoned with and faced the double teams typically reserved for Wake.

There was a lot of hard work put in by the soft-spoken Vernon during the offseason in between his rookie year and 2013 so as to take that next step Wake knew he was capable of producing. Wake seemed more excited for Vernon when he got that recognition after the first Jets game than he was for himself when he earned the honor one-month prior.

“I guess I can give myself a slight pat on the back and I’m not just happy for him, but obviously for selfish reasons as well,” Wake said. “Having both guys who can cause problems for offenses and they don’t know which way to go, slide left or slide right, pick your poison, I think it helps the team as a whole. He’s been doing it and to play that position is a certain mindset. It’s not a finesse kind of game. We’ve got to go out there and have that kind of pit bull mentality and from the day he got here that’s been who he is.”

Vernon has not only sought out Wake for pointers and advice, but he has studied the fifth-year veteran pass rusher from afar without Wake even knowing it. During practice when the defensive ends go through on-on-one drills you would see Vernon standing behind Wake and watching intently at every step being taken and every lean or hand placement so as to incorporate those moves into his own game.

When the defensive ends were in the film room breaking down the previous game, Vernon sometimes would stay after to watch Wake’s cut-ups and during games when he came out on sub packages he would position himself just right on the sideline so he could see what Wake was doing. Now he has pledged to work even harder on his technique this offseason and try to add more moves to his repertoire, conceding that “you can never have enough moves” as a pass rusher.

“I showed improvement, I got better and I validated all the hard work I put in during offseason and it’s something I’ve got to continue to work on,” Vernon said. “But at the same time, all that really doesn’t mean anything if we don’t get into the playoffs. So we’ve got to get ready for next year.”

Based on the strides he made from year one to two, there is no telling what that next step will be for Vernon.

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