The 2018 NFL regular-season schedules dropped April 19, and so Monday marked the 124th straight day the Jaguars have been “the first game” on Olivier Vernon’s mind.
The Giants still have two more preseason games to go until then, including this Friday against the Jets, when they will again show flashes of the revamped defense they’ve spent months working on.
But that hasn’t kept Vernon from dreaming about what it can look like come 1 p.m. Sept. 9, and the Sundays after that when they finally get to unleash the entirety of defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s playbook.
“The whole process of coach Bettch bringing his scheme in has all been, for myself and I feel like the other guys, has been fun,” Vernon said. “Being able to translate that to a real game day, everybody’s excited. It’s kind of like a fresh start. It’s going to be fun for a lot of guys, especially being put in different positions and just a way of attacking on defense. I think it’s going to be a lot more fun for all of us.”
Gone are the days of the Giants’ 4-3 defensive front, in which Vernon was a defensive end. In Bettcher’s 3-4 defense, which comes with multiple looks and plenty of blitzing, Vernon is an outside linebacker. His goal remains the same — make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks — but he will take a new crack at it in Bettcher’s aggressive scheme.
Two preseason games haven’t allowed Bettcher’s defense to be on full display just yet, and it likely won’t happen in the final two games of August. Vernon said he’s been focused on technique and mastering the playbook, but he and his teammates seem to be itching for what’s coming.
Even on a mundane Monday practice late in training camp, Bettcher can make things enjoyable. The Giants’ defense was swarming, breaking up passes and getting into the backfield, and Bettcher was right there with them, calling out a play or getting on somebody for dropping an interception.
“Bettch is a high-intensity guy, man,” Vernon said. “On the defensive side, you love that. He’s the same guy, same person every day. It makes it fun. Kind of breaks the monotony. Just a different type of flow of things.”
Vernon has played under four defensive coordinators since coming into the NFL. None, he noted, has been as young as Bettcher. But the 40-year-old, who came to New York from the Cardinals and replaced Steve Spagnuolo, is still demanding the very best from Vernon and his teammates.
“He just wants the best out of each and every one of us,” Vernon said. “He wants us playing to our full potential. He’s just trying to squeeze every last ounce of anything that each and every individual has. You can’t do nothing but respect that and appreciate it.”
Some questions still linger about the Giants’ defense — notably its pass coverage, especially against tight ends — but Vernon can help with his edge rushing, looking to build off the combined 15 sacks he has recorded over the past two years since arriving in East Rutherford.
The rush defense, meanwhile, looks more secure. How it lives up to that potential is “going to be a telltale sign” Week 1 against the Jaguars, Vernon said.
“From what I’ve seen out there on the field with guys, we got a lot of talent,” Vernon said. “Guys have been working hard and they’re hungry. Add that with depth, we’re going to see how it goes, but I’m excited for those guys.”
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