Dolphins coach Adam Gase says he would like to use star defensive end Cameron Wake (yes, still a star) anywhere from 35 to 45 snaps every game, so already something is definitely amiss because in two games this season Wake has played a total of 45 snaps.
Wake is 34 years old and is still only 11 months removed from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon, so the Dolphins have wisely decided their best chance to keep him healthy and playing at a high level all season is to limit his snaps.
The Dolphins have also decided that because Wake is still a dynamic pass rusher the best way to use him in this new approach is mostly in passing situations so he can affect the other team’s quarterback.
So he can impact important plays.
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So he could possibly change the course of games.
That’s where the idea of making Wake a part-time player comes from.
“We want Cam to probably have 25 to 30 rushes a game,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. “He had last week probably 14 to 15 plays maybe [that were] all passes. The first week, the game, it was a little wacky with Mario [Williams] being hurt. Last week, it turned into a four-minute game. We’re down by three scores within the first quarter, so that game changed also.
“It’s week to week, but our plan is to play Cam 25 snaps on pass-rush downs. That’s the plan. It hasn’t worked the last two weeks, obviously, because it has been two different games. But that’s the plan.”
And it’s a logical plan. It makes sense.
Except it doesn’t account for real life.
Somewhere from conception to execution of this plan, the analytics and sports science department had to have gotten involved. And now the plan to limit Wake gets a number.
That’s where the 25, 30, 35, 45 snap numbers come from.
(By the way, which one is it, anyway?)
And then someone decides because Wake is on a snap count limited to a number some computer program plucked from its chip-implanted innards, he must be saved for pass-rush snaps almost exclusively.
Joseph said Wake would not be utilized on run-down plays unless one of the team’s other defensive ends — maybe Andre Branch, Jason Jones or Williams — is tired.
And now the Dolphins have a full-blown over-think on their hands.
So in New England last week, in a game the Patriots mostly ran the football in the second half because they wanted to run out the clock and protect a huge lead, Wake played a grand total of 16 plays.
And all but two of those came in pass-rush situations.
That means when the game was 31-24 with six minutes to play and the Patriots mostly ran the football, Wake was as much a spectator as I was except he didn’t have any free press box food.
The game changer wasn’t in the game at precisely the time the Dolphins needed a game-changing play.
How does this make sense in the real world?
And, yes, I get it. The Patriots were running the football. The Dolphins want Wake for pass-rush situations.
But anyone who has watched Wake the past seven seasons knows he’s an effort player and that includes on run downs. And he finds the football, including on run downs. And sometimes when he causes turnovers, he does it on run downs.
So why not use a player like that when the team needs those type of plays on run downs? Why not use a good player when the Dolphins need all hands on deck to possibly win a game?
One more thing: The Dolphins want to limit Wake’s use because it might keep him healthy and that might help them win games later in the season. Well, early games are important, too.
How about those?
Are they going to keep him on the bench in crucial situations now and lose so they can maybe, perhaps, hopefully keep him healthy for later in the season?
If the game now suggests Wake can help, even in run situations, use him now. Win now and get to later, later.
Gase has sat down with Wake and the two have agreed the current plan is the way to go.
Except when Wake talks to the media, his mouth says he agrees with the plan and his body language screams he thinks this approach isn’t right.
Go ahead, ask Wake if he approves of being a situational pass rusher.
“Sure,” he said, looking somewhere else for an escape from the question.
“I’d like to play more if I played every snap but one. Long-term goals and short-term goals don’t always match up. That is just life. You have to think about the big picture. Again, we’ve spoken about this a few times. I’ve said this back to OTAs, you have to think about the entire situation. Focus on one game is kind of silly. In the situation, the way it has been played out, I’m accepting my role. I’m happy with it, and I’ll do whatever I can to help the team.”
That’s Wake being a good soldier. The Dolphins don’t need a good soldier because they’re not going to war.
They need a good player on the field more often. That includes now. That includes in run-stop situations late in games that could still be won.