Cameron Wake is a human forklift.
But Wake doesn’t move pallets or sandbags. He moves offensive linemen.
“He’s got a unique technique that he uses, that I haven’t seen nobody else use,” Dolphins cornerback Richard Marshall said of Miami’s star pass-rusher.
“He can squat down and hold up an O-lineman with one arm, and yet still have outside leverage. We’ve seen this a couple of times on film — everybody’s like ‘Oooohhh.’ It’s crazy.”
From his sculpted physique to his unconventional route to stardom, there isn’t much about Wake that’s normal.
Now, with a four-year contract extension (with $20 million in guaranteed money) in hand, the one-man wrecking machine wants to make the ultimate leap — from mortgage broker to NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
“Why not? You tell me why I couldn’t be?” Wake answered, when asked if he could win the league’s highest honor for a defender.
“I don’t have a ceiling on my expectations,” he said. “I’ve always been the biggest critic of myself. I don’t feel like there’s anything stopping me. There’s nothing I can’t do. I’ve come a long way, and I’ve got a long way to go.”
Wake’s story, while often told, is worth hearing again. He went undrafted out of Penn State, and after a failed bid with the Giants in 2005, was out of football altogether. He got corporate job and didn’t play for two years. He finally got a shot in 2007, signing with the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League.
Wake, now 30, dominated there, recording 39 sacks in two seasons. The Dolphins took notice. They signed him to a four-year, incentive-laden deal in 2009 — which turned out to be a steal. He has 28 sacks the past three seasons — including 14 in 2010, the year of his only Pro Bowl.
Three of those sacks in ’10 came at the expense of the Packers — a fact not lost on Miami’s first-year head coach Joe Philbin — then an assistant in Green Bay.
“Football is about matchups a lot of times,” Philbin said. “The more you can tie up an offensive staff and have them devote practice time on the field because of one unique player, one impact player, that’s great.
“And obviously the more of those guys you have, it’s even better.”
Previously an outside linebacker in the Dolphins’ 3-4 defensive front, Wake now plays with his hand in the dirt in new coordinator Kevin Coyle’s system.
Jared Odrick, Miami’s other starting defensive end, said Wake is a crucial part of the Dolphins’ plans, not just for the plays that show up on the stat sheet, but for those that do not. (That was clear in the exhibition game that Wake missed after a car accident in early August. Without him on the field, the Dolphins’ starting defense couldn’t generate any pass-rush.)
After his breakout 2010, offenses keyed on Wake last year, contributing to his drop-off in sacks (he had 8½). Wake, who had 20 quarterback hits and 52 hurries, still graded out as the league’s best 3-4 outside linebacker, according to ProFootballFocus.com. He also induced opposing lineman into 13 holding penalties — by far the most in the league.
And after a month of adjusting to Coyle’s new scheme, he has designs on even greater heights — if that’s possible.
“You have a lot of guys with a lot of different opportunities to make plays,” Wake said. “You have corners coming, middle linebackers, free safeties. It’s a fun defense to play because everybody gets their turn, and when everybody gets their turn, everybody stays healthy.”
Yet another way Wake is like heavy machinery: Both work best when in good condition.