For a Dolphins team that desperately wants to connect with its community, Olivier Vernon is marketing gold.
He’s local. He has a great smile. And he’s really good.
While Pitbull has gone worldwide, Vernon is truly a man of the 305. Born in Miami. Prepped at American High. Played his college ball at the University of Miami.
Smartly, the Dolphins have made him a face of the franchise. They recently released a promotional video starring Vernon — both from today and from long ago.
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In the ad, Vernon holds an aging snapshot taken of him in the grandstand of the team’s training facility in Davie; more than a decade before the Dolphins drafted him, he was a camper at their summer academy, learning the basics of the game.
Vernon had dreams of one day playing for his hometown team, but said, “I didn’t think it would be possible. What are the chances of being in Miami, playing for UM and staying in Miami and playing professional football? The odds are pretty slim of that.”
Probably at least as long as the odds of Vernon being the most productive member of the Dolphins’ loaded defensive line a year ago. After a mostly quiet rookie season, Vernon emerged with a team-best 11 1/2 sacks.
And despite questions about his size — he’s listed at 268 pounds — Vernon proved plenty capable of playing every down. And he nearly did. Vernon had more snaps in 2013 than any other defensive lineman on the roster — including Pro Bowler Cameron Wake.
“I think he kind of evolved to be honest with you, and I think probably what happened a little bit is his productivity kind of maybe took off a little bit as well,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “We were comfortable with him being on the field in critical situations.
“Maybe one of the things initially as we went into it was, ‘Well, is he going to be able to hang in there against the run? Is he big enough against the tackle-tight end combination schemes?’ And all of that stuff. He kind of proved he could do that. Then he proved that he could get involved in the pass rush and have an impact there.”
The better Vernon played, the more responsibility the Dolphins gave him. He even proved he could drop into coverage — often the biggest challenge for pass rushers.
“It wasn’t like Week 1 we said, ‘Hey, he’s going to be our guy,’ but the more we watched, the more we liked,” Philbin said.
Same goes for the people of Miami. He’s gracious with an autograph, no matter what the jersey — Dolphins, Hurricanes or even American High Patriots.
But Vernon hasn’t let his recent fame swell his head.
When asked what he plans as an encore to his breakout season, Vernon said he just wants to play his role.
Mentioned as the possible heir to Wake, now 32: “I never heard that one. I’m not even thinking about [it],” he said.
And how about when the Dolphins traded up to draft Dion Jordan, who plays the same position, last year?
“It didn’t push me at all. It just added more talent to the D-line, more depth,” Vernon said. “Dion’s a hell of a player.”
It’s apparent that Vernon would rather show you what he can do than tell you. And both he and Philbin believe he can do more in 2014.
“There is always more you can add to your arsenal in terms of pass rush, and then there are still things in the run game, from a technique standpoint, a discipline standpoint, that he can improve upon,” Philbin said. “But the one thing that was clear when we watched the film was the pursuit and the effort that he plays with was really outstanding last year.”