Olivier Vernon (3.5 sacks) surprising team leader

DAVIE —— Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon had no idea who was leading the team in sacks when he was told Tuesday afternoon.
It's Vernon, with 3.5. He's barely ahead of defensive tackle Randy Starks (3.0 sacks) and end Cam Wake (2.5 sacks).

"I didn't even know that," said Vernon, a second-year player. "I'm just trying to keep grinding it out and do things my coaches ask for."

Vernon started slowly this season, struggling against the run and pass. But his play has improved greatly the last three weeks, which, coincidentally, has been when Wake, the two-time Pro Bowl defensive end, has been slowed due to a knee injury.

Nowadays, Vernon is good against the pass and a better than average against the run. The latter is a sign of hard work. Vernon was almost exclusively a pass-rushing specialist last season, when he totaled 3.5 sacks.

"From last year to this year, I feel like I've improved much more, especially in the run game," he said. "That's one thing I didn't have that many [plays] last year because I was coming in as a specialist. This year, I knew I was going to have to take on some more roles and I've been trying to grind it out every day and show up on Sundays."

Vernon is now part of a developing defensive end rotation that also includes Derrick Shelby and rookie Dion Jordan. Vernon's contribution will be needed even more this week when the Dolphins travel to New England to take on quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and that dangerous Patriots passing game.

Vernon will be ready.

"I felt like coming into the season I prepared well during the offseason, worked on a lot of things I had to improve on," he said. "It might not have shown stat-wise at the beginning of the season, but play for play, I felt like I was much better than last year."

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