Cameron Wake has made a career out of proving people wrong.
▪ Too small to play defensive end.
▪ Undrafted out of college.
▪ Not the same after tearing his Achilles.
▪ Simply too old.
Wake, of course, has made all of his doubters look silly. And he did so again in 2016, when Wake made his fifth Pro Bowl on the strength of 11 1/2 sacks — just months after having his heel reattached by surgery.
But if you think his career has been fueled by slights, Wake would say you’re wrong.
When asked Thursday, on the final day of Dolphins minicamp, if he has much more to prove after last year, Wake responded:
“Not really. I’m not really looking outside. I’m more inside-out. The goals that I have are set inside myself, and I do everything I can to fight for those things. Proving [wrong] people who disbelieve, I couldn’t care less.”
Not even those Dolphins skeptics in both the media (the Dolphins are viewed by many as a bottom-half team in 2017) or the betting public (their over-under for wins is 7 1/2)?
“It means nothing.”
Or how about the Dolphins using a first-round pick on Charles Harris, a player they hope will eventually replace you?
“It doesn’t push me or not push me,” Wake said. “I’m not a guy that uses outside forces to push me. The fire is inside of me. They could’ve drafted 10 first-rounders at defensive end and I’m gonna still work the same.”
Wake added: “I worked my butt off like I do every year.”
If anything, this offseason has been easier than the one before.
This time last year, Wake was still rehabbing from the ugly Achilles injury that ended his 2015 season.
“It’s much better,” Wake said Thursday. “I was still kinda going through rehab at this point last year, trying to get back to a point where I felt like I could play in a game. Obviously that’s not the case this year. Just improving the point where I was at the end of last season to tweaking and fine tuning some things and again go out and have a tremendous season and help the team win. That’s my goal.”
While Wake insists he brushes off outside criticism, he very much cares what his teammates and coaches think about him.
Heading into the 2016 season, Adam Gase didn’t view Wake as a full-time player. He believed the best way to maximize Wake’s effectiveness was to limit his snaps.
The plan was to use him only in pass-rushing situations, but that proved untenable because, early in the season, the Dolphins rarely forced opponents to throw. Miami kept falling behind in games, allowing opponents to run the ball and keep Wake off the field.
As a result, Wake just a handful of snaps in several of the early games, effectively sidelining arguably the Dolphins’ best defender. The Dolphins reversed course, played Wake much more, and their season turned around dramatically.
Gase acknowledged Wednesday that he “made a mistake.”
Wake’s response to Gase’s mea culpa?
“We’re all human, right? We all make mistakes and players make them on the field, coaches make them off the field. As a man in this game, you’ve got to be able to admit when that happens. There are probably other coaches who don’t do that and obviously him being a different kind of guy, I think that’s part of the reason why guys respect him, why guys relate to him and why guys love him.”
Wake added that he has a “tremendous” relationship with the Dolphins’ second-year coach. And the respect is clearly mutual; the Dolphins awarded Wake a contract extension in the offseason that keeps him locked up through the 2018 season.
His financial future is likely set, if it wasn’t already. All that’s left? Team success. He reached the playoffs for the first time last season. But the first-round bow-out wasn’t nearly enough.
“That wasn’t the goal,” Wake said. “That was just the stepping stone to greater things.”