Olivier Vernon shares how he plans to ensure he’s part of the New York Giants’ quest for a championship.
Attention New York Giants fans: OV Version 6.0 is coming to a football field near you this September, and it’s shaping up to be even better than the fifth version.
“OV” is New York Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon, the 6-2, 262-pound pass rushing specialist about to enter his sixth NFL season and second with the Giants, who signed him to a blockbuster five-year contract last winter.
Vernon typically doesn’t have much to say, instead letting his play on the field do his talking for him. However, in an exclusive and candid interview with Inside Football, he reflected on his first year as a Giant, a year that included a painful wrist injury that he battled with almost as valiantly as he battled NFL left tackles.
He also spoke about how he added to his offseason training and preparation, including two new things he incorporated, and offered some thoughts about the sky-high expectations people have of the Giants as they prepare to chase the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl championship.
“It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get back up.” — Vince Lombardi
Vernon, a Miami native, is one of a few handful of NFL players who up until 2015, could lay claim to being born, raised, educated and drafted all within the same city limits of the place he still calls home. But in 2016, he decided to take his talents from the land of palm tree-lined streets and dolphins to the land of the giants in northern New Jersey.
Already an established pass rusher who was heavily sought by several NFL teams when he hit free agency, Vernon’s decision to leave the sunny and warm confines of Miami meant having to get used to seasonal temperatures, erratic weather that included snow and most of all, the familiarity of the team in his backyard that chose him in the third round of the 2012 draft to chase down quarterbacks and deny running backs daylight.
Vernon, who is wiser than his years, had an easy transition easy thanks to his passion for football which he said gave him something to focus on while his acclimation to the other external factors fell into place.
After impressing the coaching staff and the Giants fans last year with his quiet, blue collar-like work ethic, expectations shot up that Vernon, along with fellow defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, could help rejuvenate a sluggish Giants pass rush that, the year prior, finished 30th in the NFL in sacks (23.0).
The plan worked. Vernon and Pierre-Paul combined for 15.5 of the team’s 35.0 sacks last season, which tied them for 14th most (with the Chargers).
“When adversity strikes, that’s when you have to be the most calm. Take a step back, stay strong, stay grounded and press on.” — L.L. Cool J
Throughout his pro career, Vernon was fortunate enough to never have to deal with a major injury.
In his first season with the Giants, misfortune struck. Vernon, suffered a fractured left wrist—his dominant wrist—in the regular-season opener against Dallas.
Not one to complain or look for excuses, Vernon, who used football to ease the sting of leaving his family and friends behind in Miami, tried to do the same when it came to his injury.
While his motor was purring like a fine-tuned machine, the flat tire that was his injured hand began to slow him down. According to official league stats from last year, he recorded just one sack, five tackles for a loss and seven quarterback hits in his first seven games before the bye week, the period believed to be when his injury was at its worst.
Fortunately, Vernon started to feel better around the mid-point of the season. Following the Giants’ Week 8 bye, he recorded at least one sack in his next five games, a stretch that included back to back multi-sack games and 7.0 of his 8.5 sacks on the year. He also racked up 12 tackles for a loss and 16 quarterback hits.
While he was going through his injury, Vernon had to decide whether to worki through the injury and putting a subpar product on tape for the league to see or managing his practice reps and snaps to buy time for later in the year should the Giants qualify for the post season.
The decision was an easy one for the 26-year-old.
“When you play this game and have played it long enough, there’s always going to be some kind of obstacle you face,” he said. “You have to learn how to adapt. This is the kind of game that you never know what’s going to happen. Guys get hurt left and right, so every play could be your last play.
“So when something happens that’s unexpected, you have to have the mentality that, ‘Okay, something happened that isn’t what I wanted to have happen, or how I planned, so I have to adapt and make the best of the situation.’ You have to be positive and make it work.”
Also driving Vernon was his desire to maintain the reputation he built around the league as a reliable, tough-nosed and complete defensive end.
“What (his opponents) say speaks and is going to travel around the league,” Vernon said. “So I always want to be at my best, know what I mean? I never want someone to get the upper hand or be able to say that they had me. I just want a respectable name every time I walk on that field, know what I mean?”
“To be a better football player than you’ve ever been, you have to do something you’ve never done.” — Felicity Luckey
In every day life, Vernon, who will turn 27, is still a young man who has quite a way to go before hitting the prime of his life.
In the NFL, certain players at specific positions who enter their late 20s are usually considered to be in their prime.
Such is the case for Vernon, who has logged over 4,700 regular-season NFL snaps in his career. Always a dedicated weight room warrior who ensures that come training camp he’s in optimal condition, Vernon is constantly looking for new ways to make sure every little detail in the forthcoming release of the OV is perfected as much as possible.
For version 6.0, Vernon did a couple of things that he hopes will pay dividends in the coming season.
The first was some basic training in Krav Maga, done before the start of training camp.
The art of Krav Maga, which combines techniques that have origins in boxing, wrestling, judo karate and Aikido was originally developed by Imi Lichtenfeld. The practice was then adapted and taught to members of the Israeli Defense Forces and Israeli Security Forces.
Vernon spent a few sessions training with Giants fan and award-winning author and video producer David Kahn, who is an IKMA U.S. Chief instructor and IKMA board member who trains local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies along with select military units including the U.S. Marines Special Operations Command (MARSOC).
“David wanted the opportunity to work with me,” Vernon said. “So I was like, ‘You know what? Might as well give it a shot. So he came down (to Miami) to work with me.”
Vernon explained that his training focused on using other parts of the body to help improve his technique. “Stuff like turning the shoulders and turning certain points on the body to help you get around,” he said. “They broke it down more to be more effective way of using the hands as far as putting the placement on it.”
For a defensive end, using his hands efficiently is important, as Vernon found out when his left hand was rendered practically useless during his injury. And not that he’s planning on being injured again anytime soon, but if the unthinkable should occur to where one of his hands takes a beating, the training he received in Krav Maga has put him on to different ways of doing his job.
“In some ways it helped me as far as striking points,” he said. “Like I won’t have to use my hands all the way, I can use more of my forearm, something like that. It’s very beneficial. It instilled some stuff I can use,” he said. “You can never get to that point where you can’t learn something new.”
“Stop waiting for things to happen. Go out and make them happen.” — Author unknown
The second thing Vernon did in the offseason was attend Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller’s first-annual pass rusher summit held at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.
“Von reached out to me and said he was going to start a pass rush summit. He invited me and I went. I thought it was a good idea,” Vernon said.
Besides Vernon and Miller, Vic Beasley (Atlanta), Shane Ray (Broncos), Khalil Mack (Oakland Raiders), Malik Jackson (Jacksonville Jaguars), Solomon Thomas (San Francisco 49ers), Cassius Marsh (Seattle Seahawks) and Cliff Avril (Seahawks) attended as did former Broncos pass rusher Demarcus Ware.
Vernon said the summit was structured to include drill work, film study and roundtable discussions in which the defensive ends/outside linebackers in attendance talked shop.
“It was a great opportunity to see how other guys see the game, and what they have to offer,” Vernon said.
“Just being around all that talent and seeing the guys talking ball and watching film, it was good experience. I know Von is trying to keep it going and have it more, because you never really hear about that kind of stuff for defensive ends. I know I was picking everyone’s brain. It’s something I’d definitely do again.
Vernon was coy when asked about specifics, promising to put what he learned on display once the regular season began.
“Can’t be giving away the secrets before Dallas,” he said with a chuckle.
Fair enough. But when asked what the biggest overall upgrade between OV 5 and OV 6 will be, Vernon smiled again, carefully choosing his words.
“The biggest upgrade. I would say, is going to be more cohesive and knowing more of the playbook all around. That would probably be a much-added element to my game. The more you know the playbook, the easier it gets.”
“Football is like life. It requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication, and respect for authority.”–Vince Lombardi.
Vernon has always been one to expect a lot of himself which is why he often pushes himself to the brink of exhaustion as he and his teammates begin their chase for a Super Bowl championship.
But there’s also a fine balance involved in staying focused on the long-term goal while ensuring that the shorter term milestones are met along the way which Vernon believes has been instilled in the locker room by McAdoo.
“Our mentality last year was get everything worked out, get everything down pat, stay focused and making sure everyone was minding their Ps and Qs, and it ended up working out for us,” he said.
“We weren’t thinking about the future; we were thinking about every team we had to go against that coming Sunday. That’s the same approach we have for this year. We’re not thinking past Dallas right now; that’s our first game and that’s our immediate goal.”
That goal, he said, was reinforced by the opportunities the Giants squandered away last year leading to a hard lesson learned not only by Vernon but also by his teammates.
“Sometimes though people look too far ahead and don’t focus on what they have in front of them,” he said. “I think that was one of our greatest attributes from last year, not to look ahead.
“Unfortunately, our run last year got cut short. But it’s an experience and a lesson. I feel like everyone here is patient and we just have to wait for Dallas, take one week at a time, and just handle business before the postseason.”