For foodies, a trip to Italy is basically heaven on Earth.
For Cameron Wake, it was the ultimate test of willpower.
“I tasted,” Wake said of his late-summer swing through Europe. “I figured, ‘When in Rome … .’ But the food over there is very rich. I can tell that [it was] not on my diet, so I just had a taste.”
That prodigious discipline might be what keeps him in the league for years to come.
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Wake turned 32 this offseason, which is usually the danger zone for pro athletes. He’s older than 90 percent of the league — and a full decade more seasoned than Ja’Wuan James, the rookie Dolphins tackle he battles every day in practice.
And yet, Wake has looked like the kid, consistently schooling James with power and quickness. During Day 2 of training camp Saturday, Wake again beat James for a sack, one of a handful surrendered by the Dolphins’ line.
“His speed and his hands,” James said when asked what has surprised him about Wake. “He’s really good at his craft.”
Added Dolphins coach Joe Philbin: “The one thing I really appreciate about Cam Wake is the fact — obviously, we want the production and performance on game day — but he does a great job in practice.”
Maybe because Wake still believes nothing is given, even after reaching the Pro Bowl in three of his five NFL seasons. His circuitous route to the NFL — out of football for two years, then a two-year stint in Canada — makes him seem a lot younger than he is.
“Do I look 32?” Wake asked Saturday. “I sure don’t feel it.”
Given a wide enough sample size, however, Father Time always wins. He will eventually beat Wake, too.
But Wake’s remarkable preparation and the ability of defensive ends to remain effective late in their careers suggest it won’t be this season.
Robert Mathis led the NFL with 19.5 sacks last season. He was 32. John Abraham and Jared Allen both recorded 11.5. Neither was born after 1982.
The eight most-prolific pass rushers in NFL history combined to average nearly as many sacks per year after turning 32 as they did before. It wasn’t until they reached the second half of their 30s that production truly began to dip.
And by that point, they had many more miles on their legs than Wake will, simply because of the post-collegiate gap in his playing career.
Of course, Wake will never play the 19 years that all-time sack king Bruce Smith did — “I’ll be, what, 65?” he quipped — but he still feels like he’s at or near the height of his powers. Wake had 8.5 sacks last season, but the figure did not do justice to his true impact.
Wake had 71 total pressures in 2013, a stat that combines all sacks, quarterback hits and hurries. That was fourth-most in football. Pro Football Focus ranked him the second-most productive pass-rusher in the game.
Andy Dalton might thank that’s too low. Wake’s walk-off sack of the Bengals quarterback on Halloween last season was one of the signature plays in recent Dolphins history.
With the score tied at 20 late in overtime and the Bengals backed up in their own end, Wake bulldozed Cincinnati guard Kevin Zeitler and dropped Dalton at the goal line. It was just the third overtime safety in league history, and one of the team’s few highlights in 2013.
As James can attest, Wake still has it nearly a year later. The question: Will he still have it, or even be on the field, in five years?
“It’s hard to put that number out there,” Wake said. “I just want to play for as long as I can, be successful, and help whatever team, whatever situation I'm in, win. How many more years is that? Who knows?”
He added: “Everyday, I go out there and throw my fastball out there and if they can hit it, maybe I’ll think twice. But if they’re still missing and I’m still hitting the quarterback, then if it’s ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”