DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Olivier Vernon isn't on the Pro Bowl ballot, doesn't do a sack dance and expressed surprise Wednesday to be chosen the AFC defensive player of the week.
"I'm not a big accolades guy," Vernon said.
Even so, the Miami Dolphins' second-year defensive end is winning acclaim for making their strength even stronger. The front four is the Dolphins' deepest, most dominant unit, and Vernon's no longer considered a weak link.
He struggled in the first month of the season but has six sacks in the past three games, increasing his team-high total to 10½, which is tied for fifth-best in the NFL. In last week's win over the New York Jets, Vernon had three sacks and 10 tackles, both career highs.
Coming from a player who didn't start as a rookie last year, such success has been unexpected. Or maybe not.
"When you watch him in practice, it's not a surprise to see him having the success that he had, because he has been a demon in the one-on-one pass rush since training camp," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said.
Vernon may benefit from being overlooked. He lines up in the Dolphins' 4-3 scheme opposite two-time Pro Bowl end Cameron Wake, and the pass rush of first-round draft pick Dion Jordan also distracts opponents. In addition, tackles Paul Soliai, Randy Starks and Jared Odrick provide plenty of push up the middle.
When they chase quarterbacks toward Vernon, he has been ready.
"I'm just capitalizing on opportunities that come my way," he said. "I just try to get better, make plays for this team and be a role player. A lot of guys on this team have contributed a lot, and I'm just trying to add."
Defense has kept the Dolphins (6-6) in the playoff race. They'll go into Sunday's game at Pittsburgh tied for fifth in the NFL with 37 sacks, which puts them on pace to tie the franchise record. Opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 72.7, which is second-lowest in the league. Miami ranks ninth in points allowed.
Now Miami is preparing for the pass-happy Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger, who has thrown for 21 touchdowns and 3,375 yards.
"We've got to be sound in our pass-rushing lanes," Vernon said. "As long as we can contain him, it will be a good game for us. But you've still got to finish the tackle, because he's very elusive and can break out of a lot of tackles."