Back when he was terrorizing opposing quarterbacks in the Canadian Football League to the tune of 39 sacks in a two-year span,
This year under new Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, Wake is back home, with his hand in the ground and his eye on double-digit sacks.
It’s more a reclamation than a transition for the fourth-year pass rusher out of Penn State and better suits his speed and quickness on his path to the quarterback. Last year in Miami’s base 3-4, Wake was in a two-point stance or upright except in obvious passing situations, when he put his hand back in the ground.
“Sprinters line up in the blocks and they get down and get their weight over their hands and try to fire out,” Wake explained. “That’s something I started off my career doing and during my transition to a 3-4 I still was kind of used as a specialty pass rusher on third down with my hand down. Now it’s kind of a full-time deal. So I never thought it would slow me down. I enjoy it and it’s definitely not a hindrance so far as I’ve enjoyed it in the past.”
As a part-time player in 2009, his first season with the Dolphins, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Wake notched 5.5 sacks backing up Pro Bowler Jason Taylor at outside linebacker. The following year, with Taylor lining up for the New York Jets, Wake exploded for 14 sacks and was named as a starter for the AFC in the Pro Bowl. That cemented his arrival after having been out of football entirely for two years (2005 and 2006) and working as a mortgage broker.
Even though his sack numbers dropped down to 8.5 last season, Wake became more of a complete linebacker as he was stout against the run and improved his pass coverage. But when Coyle arrived as part of Head Coach Joe Philbin’s staff and switched back to a base 4-3, Wake’s eyes lit up. He gets to work full-time with defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers, who enjoys finding ways to make his most feared pass rusher even more dangerous on Sundays.
“With Cam now he’s got to have the flexibility to be able to be on the left side or the right side and rush from different spots,” Rodgers said. “And in Coach Coyle’s defense we have the flexibility to move him around, put him in different places and make it hard for offenses to try to locate where he is if they try to double team him.”
Rodgers describes Wake as someone who is playing with a chip on his shoulder and who is always hungry because of the rocky road he took to get to where he’s at today. After going undrafted in 2005 and then getting waived by the New York Giants before training camp started, Wake wasn’t sure if he’d get a second chance. But the BC Lions in the CFL called in 2007 and he went on to win back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year honors. He led the league with 23 sacks in 2007 and added 16 more in 2008.
Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland liked what he saw on film and took a chance on Wake in 2009, a chance that has paid big dividends. Taylor served as Wake’s mentor that first year and then the two teamed up again last year in what ended up being Taylor’s final season in the league. In between his start in Miami and now, more linebackers have come and gone than Wake can even count.
“I look back and I’ve been such a blessed individual coming through the ranks. My road was rocky but all’s well that ends well,” Wake said. “So I’m sitting here today and I look around this locker room at the transition and turnover. Even last year, once Channing (Crowder) left I became the longest tenured linebacker on the defense at three years. Think about that. We were a 3-4, so we had a lot of linebackers, but I was blessed to have guys like JT and Joey and those guys that had been playing for a long time and knew the game.
“It’s interesting now when I have guys like rookies (Olivier) Vernon and (Derrick) Shelby who come up to me and ask, ‘What do we do on this play? If the tackle’s doing this what do I do?’ I remember asking the same question back when I started when I used to run off the field and ask JT. So as you pass the torch, and I’m sure OV and some guys in high school right now will be coming into the league doing the same thing, it’s very encouraging.”
During the week leading up to games, Rodgers sees Wake taking Vernon, Shelby and the others under his wing and giving them pointers both on the field and in the meeting room when watching film. He also sees those youngsters watching Wake’s moves in practice and trying to emulate him when it’s their turn to rush the passer.
There are some things, however, that just cannot be taught or replicated when it comes to a player of Wake’s caliber. He was blessed with quick hips and an incomparable first step off the ball, but he also has one special trait that can directly be traced to his back-story.
“When you talk about a pass rusher all of them have a key ingredient that’s the same no matter what, and that quality is that they’re relentless and that’s what this guy is especially,” Rodgers said. “One, he’s a good football player, but when it comes to rushing he’s relentless at it. He really wants to get there and make that play.”
Wake’s almost compulsive obsession with eating right and staying in top condition has been front and center since the day he arrived. Darren Krein, Miami’s head strength and conditioning coach, admits that he actually has to tell Wake to dial it back at times and order him to leave the weight room and get some rest.
For Wake, those two years watching football on the couch on weekends was more than enough rest. He has adopted a tireless workout regimen and healthy diet that he won’t change for anybody and considers himself to be living the definition of the word relentless.
“Without a doubt if I had to throw one word in there, that would definitely be the top choice, not just on the field but the story,” said Wake. “There’s no backing down, there’s no let down or, ‘Okay, I’m going to take this month off.’ At any given moment anything can happen and in order to get to where I am now, on and off the field, I’ve got to be relentless, nonstop.”