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From early injury to Pro Bowl nod, Vernon aims to keep building

Olivier Vernon, like the Giants, just ran out of road in 2018.

The veteran edge rusher was primed to make a big impact in his seventh NFL season, third with the Giants, but suffered an ankle injury during practice late in the preseason. It caused him to miss the first five games of the season, only one of which resulted in a victory while he was absent. The Giants did not fare much better when he returned, losing the next three games to enter the bye week with a 1-7 record. At that point, a Pro Bowl nod for Vernon seemed as distant as the Giants resuscitating their playoff hopes and keeping them alive until Week 15. Yet, both happened.

“We had guys making tremendous plays,” said Vernon, who finished the season with 7.5 sacks and 21 quarterback hits. “We had (Alec) Ogletree setting the tempo really and making big plays back-to-back for several weeks. We had other guys doing what they’re doing – probably didn’t count on the stat sheet – but the guys were doing their jobs and doing what they’re supposed to do to help everybody else execute and be in the game and try to win the game. But unfortunately things just didn’t end in our favor, but that’s why you revamp, get things down pat, try to keep the core guys together and keep it moving.”

On Monday, the Giants announced they had terminated the contract of veteran linebacker Connor Barwin, who was the defense’s career sacks leader with 56.5. Vernon, who is 23rd among active NFL players in that category, now takes up the team mantle with 51.0. Of those, 22.0 have come in 39 games with the Giants. The other 29.0 were spread across 64 games with the Dolphins, including a career-high 11.5 in 2013. The Miami native, however, had to wait until this season to make his first Pro Bowl. As a first alternate, he replaced Chicago’s Khalil Mack, who was unable to participate due to injury.

“It was awesome,” Vernon said at the 2019 Pro Bowl in Orlando. “You put a lot of hard work into this game, and to get that recognition, especially from your peers and coaches, it’s a wonderful thing. It means you’re doing something right.”

Vernon joined three of his teammates -- rookie running back Saquon Barkley, safety/special teamer Michael Thomas and kicker Aldrick Rosas -- in the Pro Bowl. Safety Landon Collins was recognized for the third year in a row but was unable to participate after undergoing shoulder surgery. Collins was injured in week 13 and missed the final four games of the season. Just as Vernon was peaking – he had 6.0 sacks in December, including 2.5 in the finale against Dallas – the season came to an end.

“If I’m out there, I’m out there,” Vernon said about getting healthier as the season progressed. “Just one thing is you’ve got to get your legs back after being away from football for a little bit, but all I could do is come out there and try to make plays for the team and try to contribute.”

Now Vernon has to hit the reset button.

“I feel like for everybody else on the team [the offseason is the time] to get back down, lick the wounds that they have, and just trying to get back to their baseline of feeling good and basically mentally preparing themselves again for the next upcoming season,” Vernon said. “Be positive and hit the reset button, back to square one.”

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