Vernon Up For The Challenge Of Facing Browns' Joe Thomas

Posted Sep 6, 2013

Second-year defensive end has made strides as a pass rusher.

Schedule makers could not have thought up a tougher matchup to start the 2013 NFL season for Miami Dolphins second-year defensive end Olivier Vernon than the Cleveland Browns’ six-time Pro Bowl left tackle, Joe Thomas.

When Vernon takes the field at FirstEnergy Stadium for Miami’s first defensive series, the sights and sounds coming out of the Dawg Pound will be a distant second among his concerns. In fact, the looming shadow of the 6-foot-7, 311-pound Thomas will most likely block out Vernon’s view of that notorious section of the stadium.

“He’s a great player and he has similar traits as (former Dolphins left tackle) Jake Long,” said Vernon, who will be giving up five inches and 43 pounds to Thomas at the line of scrimmage. “I’ve just been studying him the best I can and we’ll see this Sunday. I try to look at guys that pretty much have a similar style of play as I do and I try to see what did they use to beat them. I’ll try to use some of those moves and put some of my own moves in there to get inside of him.”

Thomas was the third overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft and has not missed a start in 96 consecutive games while making the Pro Bowl every year. The former Wisconsin Badger was the AFC’s starting left tackle three straight years (2009-11), making first-team All-Pro those same three seasons.

Dolphins defensive lineman Jared Odrick is among the veterans up front that have grown more confident in Vernon after watching him make significant improvements in his overall game from his rookie season. At 6-5, 302, Odrick had less of a size disadvantage back in 2011 when he saw Thomas for the first time in Cleveland in a late September game but he knows exactly what Vernon is up against.

“A guy like Joe, he’s going to come to play every play and he’s a solid guy,” Odrick said. “He’s quiet and he’s strongly reserved and he plays with strong hands. O.V. knows that and O.V. plays with great leverage so it will be a great matchup.”

Cleveland’s defensive coaching staff no doubt has been preoccupied with game planning for two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake, who lines up on the opposite side of Vernon and helped mentor to the Miami native and former University of Miami Hurricane last year. They also have to be concerned with Odrick, two-time Pro Bowler Randy Starks and Pro Bowler Paul Soliai at the defensive tackle spots.

So Vernon is focused on working Thomas hard for four quarters and keeping him occupied so as the other three defensive guys up front can get some penetration. He put a lot of work in during the offseason watching film and improving on the areas he felt he was weakest after racking up 3.5 sacks, 22 tackles (17 solo) and a forced fumble in 2012.

“I’d say I made the biggest improvement in my technique because I didn’t use my hands as much last year,” Vernon said. “It’s been a little easier for me once you use your hands and get your technique and I’m more comfortable with the defense and knowing what to look for. I’m just going to try to do my best and work (Thomas) as best I can and hopefully things open up and hopefully plays are made by other guys on the defense that can help us change the outcome of the game.”

That’s what Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle are counting on.
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