The Dolphins trailed the Patriots by two touchdowns late in the third quarter in a late October Thursday night affair in Foxboro. The Miami defense forced an incomplete pass on third down and got off the field.
Cameron Wake, did not.
As he lie there on his stomach at mid-field, you wouldn’t know he had just torn his Achilles tendon away from the bone. Rather, you would think he was just resting in-between sets of planks with a very matter of fact look draped across his face.
Arian Foster suffered the same injury the week prior. Steve Smith had the dreaded Achilles tear less than a month later. Those two rolled around on the turf, writhed in pain and were helped off the field.
Maybe he doesn’t feel pain. Maybe he refused to show the country that he was in an immense amount of anguish. Either way, it was another prime instance of Cameron Wake providing a strong example for his teammates, his peers, and those that look up to him.
The blank stare that donned the all-pro pass rusher’s face was one of uncertainty. He was 34 years old, he was owed nearly $10 million in 2016 and would be returning from a horrific, sometimes career-ending injury. The writing was on the wall. Everyone connected to the Dolphins thought the fringe Hall of Famer’s career in Miami would come to an end.
Being doubted is nothing new for Cam Wake.
After going undrafted out of Penn State in the 2005 NFL draft, Wake signed with the New York Giants. He didn’t even have an opportunity to go to training camp as he was cut in June.
Refusing to give up on the dream, he took a job working in a gym cleaning up the machines and selling new memberships. This, of course, afforded him time to continue to sculpt his body and refine his craft for a second chance.
That second chance wouldn’t come from the NFL, but from up north in the Canadian Football League. In 2007, as a member of the BC Lions, Wake led the CFL in sacks, had the only blocked field goal in the league that season and won rookie of the year honors along with defensive player of the year.
For an encore, Wake recorded 23 sacks in his second year taking home defensive player of the year honors again and becoming the first defensive player in league history to take home the MVP trophy.
After being named to the all-decade CFL team for 2000-2009, despite only playing two years, it was clear that he was ready to try the NFL again.
He worked out for eight NFL teams and garnered interest from 17 in total. He signed four year contract with the Miami Dolphins worth $4.9 million.
He wouldn’t see more than limited reps in his first year in 2009 but broke out in 2010 with 14 sacks.
In 2012, his 15 sacks, three forced fumbles and countless quarterback pressures earned him first team all pro honors. His 2010 and 2014 performances earned him second team all-pro honors.
Prior to the Achilles injury, the 33 year old defensive end was on his way to his fifth pro-bowl game with seven sacks through the Dolphins first seven games.
Known for his burst off the line of scrimmage, it was apparent from the time Tom Brady barked out his final cadence that something was wrong with #91. He pulled up immediately and limped into the Patriots right tackle before falling to the turf.
You can question his run defense and you can question his ability to drop into coverage. But if you’ve spent any time around Cam Wake or any time reading about his journey, you know better than to put limitations on what he is capable of.
It was a near certainty that the Dolphins would move on from the worn-down veteran as the team focused a roster over-haul geared towards younger players.
In a surprising twist, the Dolphins extended Wake’s contract in May reducing his cap hit to a more team friendly figure.
The news wasn’t a surprise to those that spend every day around the Beltsville, Maryland native. They knew what this superstar that is carved out of stone is capable of.
Teammate Earl Mitchell said as much, “Everybody knows Cam as a freak of nature.” Ndamukong Suh stated rather briefly, “He’s Superman.”
The tireless hours spend in 2005 and 2006 in the weight room wondering if he’d ever buckle a chin-strap again served as a reminder that he’s been in similar valleys before.
Wake never faltered in his confidence stating, “Add another one to list. I’ve been over-coming obstacles my entire career, why would I expect this to be any different?” (These quotes are from a Miami Herald article published last June.)
He would make his pre-season debut in late August just 10 months removed from the Achilles surgery.
Enduring yet another change to his career arch, Cam Wake was asked, for the first time since 2009, to come off the bench as a sub-package player.
With the Dolphins stumbling out of the gate to a paltry 1-4 record, Wake wasn’t getting many opportunities to rush the passer as the Dolphins were constantly playing from behind. In those first five games, Wake was on the field for just 122 of the Dolphins defense’s 388 plays – just 31% of the potential reps.
He tallied only one sack and forced just one fumble during the Dolphins woeful September and early October.
Then, Adam Gase and the Dolphins coaching staff cranked up Wake’s snap count. He played 74% of the team’s defensive snaps in an upset victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers and continued to see a heavier workload each week from then on. Going from a 15-25 snaps per game player, Wake was now getting 30, 40 even 50 snaps in some games.
The additional reps led to immediate production. During the six game winning streak, Wake has not failed to record a sack in a single game. During that six game stretch, he has sacked the quarterback 7.5 times and forced two fumbles.
It’s not the volume figure that is most impressive, though.
On a per snap basis, just a couple of pass rushers are disrupting quarterbacks more than Cameron Wake.
Accounting for sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hits, and qualifying players only with 200 or more snaps, Cam Wake ranks 3rd in the league in disruption productivity. His 8.18% disruption percentage trails only Joey Bosa of the Chargers and Aaron Donald of the Rams.
(These numbers were provided by Chris Kouffman on Twitter @ckparrot. The stat double weight sacks to account for the bigger impact they have.)
Jay Ajayi got the ground game cranking, Ryan Tannehill has elevated his play, but Cameron Wake’s resurgence should be the third coming of age story for the Dolphins recent success.
He is signed through 2017 with the Dolphins and despite an age that is considered ancient in the NFL, is anyone still willing to doubt that Cameron Wake can’t do this well into his late 30’s?
Nobody exemplifies determination, grit, hard work, perseverance and an attitude that refuses to quit more so than Wake.
You’d be hard pressed to find a better role model currently in the NFL. Wake doesn’t get the promotion of Houston’s J.J. Watt, but that’s because he doesn’t ask for it.
The staple of Cameron Wake’s career has been keeping his head down, putting his nose to the grind-stone and outworking every single person trying to prevent him from achieving his goals.
I don’t have any children. I do have a wonderful woman by my side that I hope to one day have a child with. When he or she is born, you can bet Cameron will be atop the suggested baby name list.
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