Last season a lot went wrong for the New York Giants. That was a message brought to you by Captain Obvious. Between baffling coaching decisions, locker room consternation to countless injuries, the Giants could simply not get out of their own way in 2017. One injury, in particular, that was overlooked was the ankle injury that linebacker Olivier Vernon suffered last season. While his injury occurred when the Giants were already in a tailspin, his absence had a major and lingering impact on the Giants’ troubles.

Vernon, 27, is still in the prime of his career, and his resurgence in 2018 could be the key in getting the Giants defense back on track. For the first time in his career, the normally-durable Vernon did not play a full season. As a result, Vernon’s 2017 was the worst of his career.

He went from 44 tackles and eight and a half sacks in 2016 to 22 tackles and six and a half sacks last year. Vernon only played in 12 games and his absence left a huge void in both the skill and leadership department.

Alas, Vernon is back at camp with a new lease on life and thus far—according to many reports—he has looked like the Vernon of old. The key to the Giants turning around their fortunes on defense could very well hinge on the play Vernon.

With Jason Pierre-Paul gone, Vernon will be looking to take on a leadership role alongside defensive stalwarts Damon Harrison and Landon Collins. Vernon should be the anchor in the middle of the defense. With new linebackers Alec Ogletree and Connor Barwin, the unit could be a strength after years of being a weakness.

Not since the likes of Antonio Pierce have the Giants had a linebacker who commanded such attention and respect. If Vernon puts it all together, who’s to say this won’t be a career year for the defensive playmaker.

New Season, New Coordinator

Vernon has seen up close the new-look defense under new defensive coordinator James Bettcher and he thinks things will be different this season. As a reminder, last season the Giants ranked 31st in the league in yards allowed—5,971. They also ranked 31st in passing defense and 27th in rushing defense.

More from Vernon on what he has seen from the new look defense thus far in training camp, via Big Blue View:

It’s aggressive, a lot of guys are having fun with that, flying around,” Vernon said. “There is a lot less thinking when it comes down to it. Just getting down pat and getting in the playbook. Once we get the communication down it tends to help guys on the field learn the playbook because everyone is talking amongst each other. It makes it more smooth to delegate all the plays and getting out there and getting after it.”

There is obviously a culture change taking place under new head coach Pat Shurmur and Bettcher and Vernon is one vital player the Giants can rally around on defense. If Vernon is healthy—and by all accounts, there is no reason to believe he is not—and committed, he could be the glue in getting the Giants back to the gloried heights it once enjoyed on the defensive side of the ball.

After all, we’re talking about a player who was a second-team All-Pro player in 2016. The tools are all there, it’s all about putting it all together for Vernon, as he looks for a bounce back season.

With the Giants looking to restore some lost pride, Vernon will sure to be at the forefront if the Giants are to have a successful 2018 season.

Main photo:Embed from Getty Images

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