When Olivier Vernon came into the NFL as a rookie with the Dolphins and developed throughout his career there, one of the ways the then-defensive end learned to improve his game was by going against the Patriots. More specifically, by going against Patriots left tackle Nate Solder.
The two of them clashed twice a year as division rivals.
“We battled,” Vernon recalled for Newsday. “He’d get me, I’d get him. Back and forth.”
These days, the two of them don’t have to wait until their teams meet twice a year to go head-to-head. They’re doing it every day in training camp practice as teammates with the Giants. Vernon is entering his third season with the team and Solder is in his first. Their pass-rushing duels have been some of the fiercest and most entertaining to watch in camp.
Just like when they played each other in games, each wins some and each loses some — technically. Because in the big picture, they’re both winning.
Solder gives Vernon not only the toughest competition he’s had to face in Giants training camp since he signed here but, for the first time, an established veteran to talk shop with after practices. After going up against Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart and a string of other forgettable offensive tackles in Giants practices for years, Vernon is thrilled to have someone lined up across from him who not only can compete with him but teach him.
“It’s always good when you have a teammate that has that type of wisdom and experience that you have to go against,” Vernon said on Friday. “He can give you all types of looks that you’ll get to see in regular-season games, and that’s what you want. That’s what you want: someone who is always going to make it difficult for you, especially mentally. It forces you to go out and get after it and play, because if you don’t, he’s gonna come and get you.”
The two have bonded to the point that on several occasions this summer, they’ve been spotted working by themselves after most of the rest of the team has left the practice field. Solder will line up and set in a stance and Vernon will give him a slow-motion rush and they’ll work on their respective choreographies.
“I’ve told him whatever I’m giving away, just let me know and vice versa,” Vernon said. “Whenever we can exchange some knowledge, it helps both of us in the long run. That’s what you want. It’s got to be like that. That’s the only thing that’ll get you better at the end of the day.”
Vernon believes that facing Solder on a daily basis will make him better in 2018. And there’s a good chance that facing Vernon each day will help make Solder better.
Giants linebacker Kareem Martin said he’s been watching the work between Vernon and Solder with great appreciation.
“It definitely elevates your game,” Martin said. “You have a guy like Nate, a guy like OV, some of their best opponents some weeks are going to be in practice. When they get into the game, they’re going against guys at that level or below. So on Sunday, they’re going to be confident they can block that guy or rush that guy and beat him. They say iron sharpens iron, and to see them go out there every day, I just know it’ll pay dividends for us on Sundays.”
Notes & quotes: B.W. Webb, Orion Stewart and Ray-Ray Armstrong each had an interception in Friday’s practice . . . Veteran CB William Gay has gotten some work at free safety in recent days, a position that seems to be up for grabs. “I think he’s very instinctive, he’s a good player, very veteran player, and we’re trying to take advantage of the fact that he’s played a lot of football,” coach Pat Shurmur said. As for the battle to start at free safety, Shurmur said the preseason games will play a big part in that competition . . . C Jon Halapio sat out some snaps with the first team, allowing Brett Jones to work with the starters for the first time this camp. John Greco snapped for the second unit . . . CB Teddy Williams was excused from practice to deal with some personal matters . . . The Giants signed veteran CB Leonard Johnson and waived CB Kenneth Durden.