Cameron Wake is familiar with career obstacles.
When he wasn’t drafted after his college days at Penn State, that was a career obstacle. When he was cut by the New York Giants after failing to turn heads as an undrafted free agent his rookie year, that was an obstacle. When he was out of football the 2005 and 2006 seasons?
Having to play in the Canadian Football League, the league of last resort for many NFL hopefuls, was definitely an obstacle.
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Wake faced all those obstacles before he became one of the most accomplished pass rushers in the NFL. And, yes, he initially tripped over those obstacles, but always got back on his feet.
Now Wake is facing a new obstacle, perhaps the most significant and career-threatening obstacle he ever has tried to clear.
Wake is trying to make his way back from a ruptured Achilles that ended his 2015 Dolphins season last October. He is eight months removed from that fateful injury and already is participating in the team’s mandatory minicamp — doing everything all the other players are doing.
That’s impressive considering the man trying to clear this new hurdle actually had to learn how to walk, then jog, then run again on his surgically reattached tendon.
“It’s extremely impressive,” teammate Earl Mitchell said of Wake’s return. “Cam, everybody knows him as a freak of nature. But for him to come back from that so fast is extraordinary.”
Wake won’t discuss whether he’s at 100 percent now or how far from that mark he is if he’s still short of full health. His reticence about the subject strongly suggests he’s not all the way back yet.
But the fact he’s doing everything teammates are doing is a victory. It speaks to a mental and emotional state of mind that wouldn’t bow to a potentially career-threatening injury.
“Well, when I got released from the Giants, I’d never been released,” Wake, speaking for the first time this offseason, said Tuesday. “When I got to the CFL, I’d never been to the CFL. When I got to the Dolphins, I’d never been inactive.
“Like I said, add another one to the list, another obstacle to overcome. I’ve been doing it my whole career and I wouldn’t expect this to be any different.”
Teammate Ndamukong Suh, apparently trying to be a source of encouragement and support for teammates this year, was standing three paces away, recording Wake on a smartphone as he spoke to reporters. And when Wake was asked how he’s able to have the mind-set he has, Suh could not resist helping Wake.
“Can I answer that question?” Suh asked. “He’s Superman.”
It does take superhuman confidence and physical ability to be so certain about making a successful comeback from the injury that left Wake sprawled on the turf in New England last winter. Remember that Dan Marino, super as he was with a football in his hands, was betrayed by his legs at the end of his career because the ruptured Achilles he sustained in 1993 was never completely right afterward.
And Marino earned his money mostly with his arm. Wake makes his living as much with his legs as anyone. He depends on an explosive first step to get past bigger and stronger offensive linemen. He has relied on speed and burst as much as skill and strength to seize those 70 career sacks, second on the Dolphins’ all-time list behind only Jason Taylor’s 131.
And still … Wake shows no apparent self doubt.
“I like that. I like that answer,” he said, agreeing with Suh’s Superman assessment. “But there’s never been any doubt. I don’t have to reiterate my story, but I’ve had hurdles, roadblocks, obstacles, from the minute I started playing football. Add this to the list.”
The thing is, Wake has never been 34 before. And he’s never had to get back up from any of his previous career slip-and-falls on a surgically repaired leg.
It’s important to keep that perspective. It’s important to remember that even the team that is invested in Wake’s return to form mitigated that investment by cutting part of the player’s salary in an offseason contract extension.
So there is a shadow of uncertainty. Wake’s return will be a topic of great importance and scrutiny this season because Wake’s success is of great importance to the Dolphins.
“Cam’s a disruptive football player no matter what he does,” linebacker Koa Misi said. “He takes up two guys from the offense automatically. Offenses get scared when they see him line up on the line. So when we lost Cam last year it was a big hit for us — not just on the field but his leadership role.
“Cam’s a big deal for this defense.”
It’s a big deal Wake is on course. It’s a big deal he’s so far handling the latest obstacle as he handled all the others. And that seemed to be the case when Wake, reattached Achilles tendon and all, acted as if being at this minicamp eight months after his injury was simply routine.
“It was great,” Wake said. “It was just like old times.”