Vernon was expected to post big numbers in 2015. The combination of playing in a contract year and the addition of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was expected to equal major success for Vernon this season. However, Vernon is having one of the slowest starts of his career through the first quarter of the season.
After four games, Vernon has zero sacks and just four tackles. Miami’s starting defensive end is averaging just one tackle per game and hasn’t done much to help stop the run. The Dolphins are ranked dead last in the NFL, allowing an astounding 160.5 rushing yards per game.
This week Vernon summed up his slow start in four words.
“I gotta do better,” Vernon said.
Vernon’s play is indicative of an entire Dolphins defensive line that began with high expectations and has underachieved so far. The starting four of Vernon, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell and Pro Bowlers Cameron Wake and Suh have been held without a sack. Rookie backup Jordan Phillips is the only defensive linemen to register a sack for the Dolphins this season.
Miami’s defensive line is arguably the deepest and most talented group on the roster, and the defense will go only as far as this unit can carry it this season.
“We got a lot of guys that take this serious,” Vernon said. “It just hasn’t shown up on Sunday.”
The struggles of the defense and defensive line, in part, led to major changes on the coaching staff. The Dolphins fired head coach Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle last week.
Miami promoted Dan Campbell to interim head coach to try to provide a spark. Campbell isn’t expected to make wholesale changes but plans to make important tweaks to the defense that will make the group more aggressive.
According to Vernon, players are buying into Campbell’s approach. The Dolphins travel to face the Tennessee Titans (1-3) Sunday in Campbell’s head-coaching debut.
“As a former player, he understands how it is, especially during the season when things get tough,” Vernon said. “From Dan’s standpoint, he’s played in a lot of games. So he knows how things are sometimes if you start 1-3 or 4-0. He’s seen a lot and he’s won a lot of games.”