Miami Dolphins

Olivier Vernon stealing spotlight from Cam Wake as Miami Dolphins’ sack master

There are out-of-nowhere impact players, and then there is Olivier Vernon.

The pride of American High School is tied for fifth in the NFL with 10 1/2 sacks.

On Wednesday, he was named the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Week after sacking Jets quarterbacks three times Sunday.

Vernon has built a formidable Pro Bowl résumé. Unfortunately, he won’t get a single fan vote.

Why? He’s not even on the ballot, a reflection of just how low his profile was entering the season.

“Yeah, I was told that in the beginning of the year,” Vernon said Wednesday.

“It is what it is. It means it gets me more motivation to grind harder for next year.”

In a way, the oversight is a snapshot of not only how anonymous much of the Dolphins defense is, but how many of those unknown players are actually carrying the unit.

Statisticians awarded Vernon another half-sack from Sunday’s game, meaning he now has more than a quarter of the team’s 37 sacks in 2013.

The Dolphins are tied for fifth in the league in sacks and have just five fewer than they did in all of 2012.

And they’re doing all this without a standout season from All-Pro Cameron Wake.

He has been limited to 6 1/2 sacks this year, and four since the season opener.

From 2009 through 2012, Wake has carried the Dolphins’ pass rush, accounting for 25.9 percent of their sacks. But through the first 12 games of 2013, his share of his team’s sacks has dipped to 17.6 percent.

But the Dolphins still have gotten to the quarterback as often as ever. Vernon is a major reason why.

“That’s a guy that’s not getting as much attention as he probably needs to be, or the credit that he deserves,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “He’s playing at an extremely high level right now, and we’re going to have to have eyes and attention on him [Sunday].”

While it was assumed No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan would be the heir apparent to the soon-to-be 32-year-old Wake, Vernon has made it tough for coaches to take him off the field.

Vernon has logged 694 snaps through 12 games, the most of any defensive lineman.

But Wake and Vernon are just part of the reason why the Dolphins might threaten the franchise record for sacks in a season (they had 49 in 1983 and 2005).

Miami is getting production from all angles.

The Dolphins have at least one sack from 12 players — including 4 1/2 from Jared Odrick and three from Randy Starks. That makes them the fifth-most diverse pass rush in the NFL, according to Stats Inc.

“It speaks volumes to the guys that we have,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “I think [defensive coordinator] Kevin Coyle and our entire defensive staff does a good job of putting guys in position to be successful.”

Added Wake: “From the minute we got here back in April, everybody looked around in the defensive meeting room, saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got a lot of players who can play this game pretty well.’

“ Corners and safeties and linebackers, D-linemen, everyone getting after the quarterback and having everybody contributing,” Wake added. “That kind of unity is a lot of fun to play with. Everybody gets the opportunity. I’m loving it, and a lot of other people are, too.”

No one more so than Vernon, who never had more than six sacks at the University of Miami.

He was a training-camp darling this summer but struggled to start the season, managing a half-sack in his first three games.

But Vernon has six in the past three weeks — enough to get the attention of the league and the Steelers.

That’s good news for Wake, who has served as a mentor for his younger teammate, and not just because it has helped put the Dolphins back in the playoff hunt.

It might also mean fewer double-teams.

“I hope so,” Wake said.

“To have so many different weapons and help keep offenses on their heels, and not being able to key on any specific blitz. We have guys coming from everywhere.”

Related stories from Miami Herald