Cameron Wake continues to defy odds despite advanced age

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 27: Miami Dolphins Defensive End Cameron Wake (91) celebrates after sacking San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) along with Miami Dolphins Linebacker Kiko Alonso (47), Miami Dolphins Defensive Tackle Ndamukong Suh (93) and Miami Dolphins Linebacker Jelani Jenkins (53) during the NFL football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Miami Dolphins on November 27, 2016, at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL. (Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire)
Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire

Time is undefeated in life and in the NFL. A person only has a finite amount of time in the NFL, and oftentimes, that time is short. The average NFL career is 2.66 years, and it is even less for players who went undrafted. Beating the odds is something that is often fantasized in our culture, but we rarely see it.

More than most, Cameron Wake has been beating the odds.

The Penn State product went undrafted in the 2005 NFL draft, and he was cut by the New York Giants before his rookie year began. After taking a year off, Wake joined the Canadian Football League in an attempt to resurrect his career. He led the CFL in sacks in 2007 (16) and 2008 (23) and started to garner interest from the NFL soon after.

In 2009, Wake made his return to the NFL with the Miami Dolphins, and the rest is history. Since 2009, Wake is tied for second in sacks (78.5) behind DeMarcus Ware (84) with Jared Allen, and he’s sixth in forced fumbles with 19.

The CFL standout has been nothing short of a stud since getting his second crack at the NFL in 2009.

Coming into 2016, it looked like the fairy-tale ride was coming to an end. A 34-year-old pass-rusher coming off a torn Achilles, and who relies on his athleticism to be successful, didn’t inspire a ton of confidence throughout the NFL community.

Through five games, it appeared as though everyone was right. Wake was ineffective and unproductive as he recorded just one sack in the first handful of games. In those five games, Wake only played more than 30 snaps once, as he was relegated to a situational pass-rusher role in an attempt to keep him healthy for the full season.

However, in the sixth game, the Dolphins, desperate for a spark on defense after a poor start to the season, started to up Wake’s playing time. Since Week 5, the eight-year veteran hasn’t played fewer than 32 snaps in any game, and he’s started in every game, which has been the catalyst to his resurgence.

Defying the odds, Wake’s been on a tear as he has recorded 7.5 sacks in his six starts, and the Dolphins have clawed back into playoff contention. In fact, Wake came into Week 12 second in the NFL in high-quality sacks with 8, and he added another against the San Francisco 49ers, to go along with the best snap-to-sack ratio with one sack per 40.5 snaps (the next closest is 68 snaps per sack by Dee Ford).

And, boy was it a beauty:

Wake almost exclusively rushes off the left side in his signature cocked four-point stance. This type of play is what has made him so special in the past decade.

Wake’s get off has been the gold standard in the NFL for the better part of a decade, and while it may not be as good as it was two or three years ago, he can still consistently win with speed. Notice how there isn’t any wasted movement with his rush. The former Nittany Lion’s pad level doesn’t rise as he takes his initial step, and he keeps good pad level throughout the play. Wake has the best rip move in the NFL, and it is on display here again as he uses it to clear the right tackle’s hands as he flattens to the QB after sharpening his route around the edge.

Also, notice how Wake’s alignment was in conjunction with the landmark of the right tackle. The angle of the alignment in coordination with his get-off completely ruins the right tackle’s kick slide.

While some may typecast him into the pure-speed-rusher category, he is more versatile than he gets credit for. If an edge rusher just uses speed on every play, then the offensive tackle will catch on and take that away. A varied approach is key for a pass rusher to be successful, and Wake is no different. The Dolphins’ star defensive end likes to utilize a powerful bull rush to set up his speed to the outside. Here is an example:

Wake’s bull rush, like all his moves, comes off his speed as he feints like he is going outside for a step before he attempts to drive through the offensive tackle. While he doesn’t possess great strength, Wake is effective with the bull rush because he initiates contact with lower pad level, proper hand placement and good leg drive.

If he can get the offensive tackle to start guessing as to whether he will use speed or power, Wake will take advantage more time than not.

On top of speed and power, Wake’s hand usage has great throughout his career, especially when he tries to get around the corner with his rip move like he does here:

Unlike in the first clip, Wake doesn’t get a great jump of the ball, and he fails to really threaten the right tackle with his upfield burst. However, he isn’t out of tricks just yet. Wake reaches his left hand on top of the right tackle’s right shoulder, and once he gets a good grip, he yanks that shoulder to the ground to get the offensive tackle off balance as he rips through to free himself and make his way to the QB.

To get a better appreciation for Wake’s signature move, let’s take a look at it specifically:

The control of the outside shoulder allows Wake to pull his hips to the edge of the offensive tackle. Also, notice how he slightly gives ground to the tackle by sliding his feet (watch the left foot specifically) away from the blocker as he grabs the tackle’s shoulder. When Wake is engaged, he is like a shelf for the tackle to rest on. Once he takes that away, Wake has the space required to pull the tackle’s weight forward and expose his edge, which Wake takes full advantage of.

Time is undefeated in the NFL, and it usually takes no prisoners. However, every once in a while there is a special player who slows down the hands of time so that he can be productive just that much longer than your typical player. Wake isn’t just slowing down the hands of time, he may have pushed it back a year or two.

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