Olivier Vernon impressing the veterans

DAVIE – Olivier Vernon's fists were filled with the jersey being worn by arguably the NFL's best offensive tackle.

The small shoving among linemen was more of a territorial warning from four-time Pro Bowler Jake Long. One play earlier, Vernon had slipped inside his Miami Dolphins' teammate escaping a block that could have prevented a sack of quarterback David Garrard.

Vernon's speed, technique and strength as a rookie defensive end have caught the attention of many veteran teammates eager to see what the former University of Miami star can become in the NFL.

"I have a lot respect for how he's playing," Long said. "We go hard against each other. I think we're making each other better."

The immediate impact of Vernon (6-2, 261 pounds) one week into training camp is validation he made the right decision to leave the Hurricanes with a year of eligibility remaining.

On Friday while his former college program starting fall practice in Coral Gables, Vernon was heavily involved with the Dolphins' first-team defense. He'll be key in third down situations, a pass rush specialist opposite Cameron Wake in nickel and dime packages.

Vernon's skills are obvious to teammates studying practice film in meeting rooms.

"You see his different moves," Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith said. "He's keeping his pads down, and that's something you don't really see from a guy coming out of college early on."

Keeping the pads down is important to prevent an offensive lineman from targeting the defenders jersey number, an obvious target for forcing guys like Vernon out away from the quarterback and out of the backfield.

Kacy Rogers, who coaches the Dolphins' defensive linemen, is molding Vernon's raw collegiate talent and loading his mind with the necessary software to decipher NFL tackles and guards on a weekly basis.

Right now, Vernon is intent on studying his hand placement so he can get off blocks quickly to make his specialty moves more effective.

"In pass rushing, you always have to win every one-on-one," Vernon said. "That's what Coach Rogers stresses. I try to do it as much as I can."

Artis Hicks, a Dolphins' guard, remembered preparing for the Miami's defense last year as a member of the Cleveland Browns. The emphasis was stepping up their game for the Dolphins' defensive line.

"Now that I'm here and I see what these guys really can do, man I'm glad I'm playing with them," Hicks said. "...(Vernon's) nice, man. This guy can move. And him with Cameron Wake opposite each other, they're gonna put a lot of pressure on the outside pocket. And when that quarterback goes to step up, guess what. You've got (Randy) Starks and big Paul (Soliai) in the middle pushing backwards, so that pocket's gonna collapse on a lot of quarterbacks this year."

Wake sees himself in Vernon when he watches the rookie scrap with Long.

"He's got a lot of energy," Wake said. "He's got the mindset, his temperament is right. Guys like us, who are not the traditional defensive ends in a 4-3 we've got to have that little extra bite. ...He's got a lot of fight in him, and he comes after the ball hard."

Vernon's dust up with Long wasn't the first, and certainly wasn't as note worthy as the one that was more of a small fight in June during a mandatory minicamp.
Based on Vernon's intentions to improve it's bound to happen again in the spirit of competition. One way is through standing up to the toughest guy on the team.

"I've never grown up to be intimidated or have any fear against anybody," Vernon said. "I try to make that known that I'm not scared of  nobody out here even though they're grown men."

So how are things between the two of them?

"We shook hands after (the fight in June) in the locker room," Vernon said. "It was all good. It's all football."

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