There is no way to know how a premier player coming to New York will handle himself, on or off the field: If the lights will be too bright for him, if he will be attracted to the fame as he collects his fortune, or if he will shrink from the increased attention, nearly melting away as the spotlight bears down on him.
Olivier Vernon has been on the scene for a year, in case you hadn’t noticed. Oh, he can be a terror during games and plans to be fully healthy and far more of a force this season than last, when a debilitating wrist injury limited his effectiveness to a degree. After a lifetime spent in South Florida, Vernon has come north and it appears as if there is absolutely no danger of him going south.
“Everybody kept talking about how crazy it could be, being on the biggest stage,’’ Vernon, soft-spoken as always Wednesday, told The Post after practice. “The reason I came here is to be on the biggest stage. I don’t really get fazed by stuff like that. Anything that’s going on outside, doesn’t really faze me at all or get to me.’’
It only seems as if Vernon shrugs every time he speaks. In a lineage of Giants defensive ends, starting from the charismatic Michael Strahan, to the emotive Osi Umenyiora, to the proud Justin Tuck and to the innocence of Jason Pierre-Paul, Vernon is next in line and unquestionably the most low-key of the heralded bunch. The $85 million changed his bank account, but not his persona.
“He’s probably one of the most humble superstars you’re ever gonna come in contact with,’’ fellow defensive lineman Jay Bromley said. “JPP’s the same way, maybe a little more outspoken.’’
The reticence should not be mistaken for passivity.
“Don’t confuse that subtleness and quietness that he doesn’t have dog in him,’’ Bromley said. “He might be the biggest dog in the yard, he just don’t bark. He don’t need to.’’
There was no barking by Vernon on a signature play in the second quarter of a Monday preseason loss to the Browns, a play that had teammates wide-eyed in appreciation and left his head coach with a valuable teaching moment to impart on the entire team.
With the Browns facing third-and-25, rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer looked deep down the field and must have figured he had rookie tight end David Njoku running free, with only some big guy wearing jersey No. 54 in pursuit. That would have been an incorrect assumption. Njoku is a physical freak, but Vernon was on the case, nearly 30 yards from the line of scrimmage, dropping into coverage to deflect the pass away.
“I mean, basically we just had to drop on the tight end and just had to stick on him until I found some help and unfortunately, it didn’t come so I just had to stay on him,’’ Vernon said matter-of-factly.
The Giants did not know what impressed them more, the physical ability Vernon showed or the desire, in a preseason game, to make such an effort so far away from his comfort zone.
“I think it speaks more to the effort and finish in the second preseason game and the desire to compete and it was a great example for everybody on the team,’’ head coach Ben McAdoo said.
“Man, that was nice,’’ said cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, something of a specialist in the art of coverage. “I saw the quarterback scrambling a little bit, seeing the guy coming from the other side of the field, then somebody running with him and knocked it down. I definitely didn’t think it was OV, then I see everybody slapping his hand on the sideline. Then I looked back on film and I was like ‘That’s nice.’ You wouldn’t expect an end to do that.’’
No, you would not expect a defensive end to do that.
“It’s surprising the effort he put into it,’’ Rodgers-Cromartie said, “but you know, that’s just how he is. He doesn’t say much, he just goes out and plays ball.’’
Vernon doesn’t bother much with social media — he has 25,000 followers on Twitter and has tweeted only 282 times, although he did recently post pictures of his new puppy.
“My thing is just football, I always loved the game of football,’’ he said. “That’s all I care about. Everything outside, I could really care less about.’’
The Giants opened the vault to sign Vernon, who somehow is still just 26 years old, and it appears they made a wise investment.
“It proves you can be any sort of way and be a productive player,’’ Bromley said. “You don’t got to be a rah-rah kind of guy. OV’s not going to give a speech before the game but you know he’s going to go out and give it his all. The humbleness, it’s either in you or it’s not.’’
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