Cameron Wake, a man of many sacks the past eight seasons with the Miami Dolphins, was a rookie in the eyes of established veterans such as Jason Taylor and Joey Porter when he came to the team in 2009. Those veterans wanted to treat Wake like a rookie and Wake, having led the CFL in sacks twice and been named defensive player of the year once, didn’t think that’s how he should be treated.
So Cameron Wake and Jason Taylor had some disagreements.
“There was one day I didn’t get any food for the plane and we had some choice words with one another,” Wake said. “[Then coach Tony] Sparano actually sat me down and he said ‘I’m not telling you what to do, you’re a grown man you can do what you want. But if I had Jason Taylor,’ and at the time Joey Porter was here too. ‘If I had those two guys at my disposal to pick their brains and find out how they do what they do, or who’s the best masseuse, or where to go on Friday to get your haircut, all these things that they know and all they’re asking me for is some chicken, it might be worthwhile to take part in that silly rookie tradition.’ “
Things changed on the Dolphins’ charter for the next road game.
“Needless to say,” Wake said. “I had some chicken for them the next week.”
Cameron Wake learned and improved quickly early in his Dolphins career. Within a year of arriving, he collected 14 sacks in 2010. And that is a typical career course for premier NFL players.
But the amazing thing is that now, at age 35, Wake could still be riding an upward career trajectory at a time other pass rushers are fading into the background.
That’s because so far during the Dolphins 2017 training camp, Wake looks better than a year ago.
The reason is Wake this season is two years removed from that Achilles tendon tear that threatened his career in 2015. And, yes, he came back from that injury last season and collected 11 1/2 sacks and seemed as good as ever.
But now, with that injury a memory so distant that Wake doesn’t really think of it, his explosion off the ball seems better. With his body no longer having to prove to everyone, including Wake, that all is well, the player can concentrate on other things that don’t involve merely getting healthy.
So perhaps two seasons out from his injury will be better than one season out.
“Sure, why not,” Wake said Monday. “I like the way you think. I guess three years would probably be even better than two years. Coming off an injury and still building back and finding trust, and finding your feet under you, so to speak, that’s all going to be part of it. I went through that last training camp -- trusting it, doing the move that you normally do with the forces and the pressures and the twisting that you had done before.
“I think [being better] is possible and that’s what I’m working on today, getting after it and getting back to not thinking about it at all. So far, so good.”
There aren’t just physical forces at work here. Obviously, last season as Wake worked his way back, He had to gain trust he wouldn’t pop the tendon again. He had to constantly think about how to manage it. Now?
The injury is not among Wake’s most present thoughts.
“Occasionally we’ve had a couple guys with some nicks and reminiscing a little bit and kind of telling them my story as far as helping them through theirs,” Wake said. “We’ve had a couple guys with some things. Aside from that, on the field, it’s been a while [since I thought of the injury].”
This tells you how much different 2016 Wake and 2017 Wake might be from each other: Last year at this time, the Dolphins were managing Wake’s rehabilitation. Coach Adam Gase was embracing the idea that Wake had to become a part-time player who could no longer start games.
The Dolphins were being careful with what they feared was an increasingly fragile Wake.
This year, on the day the Dolphins were scheduled to take in practice for the first time this summer, Wake was similarly scheduled to have a veteran rest day.
“It was supposed to be today but he was like ‘No chance.’ “ Gase said. “ He was like, ‘We’re going live. I’m not sitting out.’ So we had to move it.”
And in practices so far, Wake has been dominant. He’s been, well, better.
“I’ve noticed a difference in our run game, like the way that he’s setting the edge,” Gase said. “He’s really done a great job of being a presence on that edge. We’re trying to run the ball to his side and there’s nowhere to go. It really is amazing.
“You forget how long he’s been playing and his age. That just seems to go out the window and he does a great job of taking care of himself. He looks like he’s 25 years old.”
Wake is 35. And playing better.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero