The Dolphins are a team shadowed by questions.
Will they break their four-year-long, losing-season skid this year?
Will Ryan Tannehill make the jump to being a franchise quarterback?
Can Jonathan Martin replace Jake Long?
Can Dustin Keller and Brent Grimes stay healthy? Are Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler really upgrades? Is Lamar Miller ready to start at running back? And will Mike Wallace be as good in Miami as a $60 million free agent as he was in Pittsburgh when he was a humble third-round pick?
Everywhere on the Dolphins’ roster and extending out beyond the locker room to the coach (Is Joe Philbin a good coach?) and the general manager (Did Jeff Ireland finally turn the corner this offseason?) is one giant question after another.
And amid all these question marks stands Cameron Wake.
An exclamation point.
Forget that he’s one of the longest tenured Dolphins. Forget that with consecutive Pro Bowl appearances he’s one of the team’s most accomplished players. He starts 2013 right about where he left off last year.
As Miami’s best player.
As one of the NFL’s best players.
That’s not one man’s opinion. The NFL Network in the offseason ranked the league’s top 100 players for 2013. Wake was the only Dolphins player making the cut. A panel of 481 NFL players submitted ballots to come up with the list, and Wake came in at No. 89.
Fans also voted, and they decided the players vastly underrated Wake, something that would get no argument from the defensive end.
“That’s one of those things that comes from the outside,” Wake says with a shrug. “I had a guy tell me about the top 100, but when you look at other studies, for example Pro Football Focus where they break down things and get a more holistic view of the game, I think that’s a more accurate tally of where I stand.
“And more important than that, I look at Coach Philbin and [defensive coordinator] Coach [Kevin] Coyle and [defensive line coach] Kacy Rodgers and ask them where they rank me. And they have trust and confidence in me. They think I’m one of the best out there.
“That’s where I continue to strive to be.”
Wake’s continued reach for elite production isn’t limited to three hours on Sunday. It involves meticulous computer study of his imperfections because, yes, he has some. And it involves a seemingly obsessive work ethic that never, ever seems to take any time off.
The result of all that?
Well, Wake started the 2013 season by taking his conditioning test like every other player on the roster. Except that unlike other defensive ends, he didn’t run his test with the defensive line. He also didn’t run it with the linebackers, even though that’s the next-fastest group on defense.
He ran with the defensive backs.
“I know running with the D-line is where I’m supposed to be, but in my mind, I can keep up with Mike Wallace,” Wake says. “So I ran the test with the DBs and passed.”
Perhaps that’s the reason Grimes, himself an athletic specimen, sees Wake as something of a freak.
“When I was with Atlanta, we played the Dolphins a couple of times in the preseason and everybody will tell you he’s a beast off the edge,” Grimes said. “Now watching him myself from being here, not just on the field but working out, he’s a special player.”