Before each of the past few games, Cameron Wake and Andre Branch have shared a moment on the sideline.
They’ve met briefly and before going about their business they’ve promised to see each other again soon on the field … wherever the opposing quarterback is setting up to throw the football.
“’See you back there,’ we say,” Wake shared Thursday before practice at a local high school where the Miami Dolphins are preparing for Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams.
Wake and Branch have been in something of a race to the quarterback in recent weeks, and their pregame ritual simply serves as the starting blocks of that race.
“For sure,” Branch said. “Before the game me and Cam always tell each other I’ll meet you back there. He’s like a big brother to me. These guys welcomed me with open arms when I first got here, but at the end of the day they probably didn’t know who I was.
“I came from Jacksonville. They’re never on TV. So I just wanted to show them I could play with them. I wanted to learn from them. I’m not coming here to be cocky by any means. For me, I just wanted to be part of the brotherhood.”
Andre Branch was obviously part of the team once he signed a one-year deal with the Dolphins in the offseason. After four unspectacular years in Jacksonville both he and that team were ready for a change.
But it wasn’t until the middle of last month — Oct. 16 to be exact — that Branch seemed to become an integral part of “the brotherhood,” as he calls it. That’s when Branch was promoted from reserve pass rusher to starter.
And a funny thing happened when Branch became a starter: his production grew. He’s collected 12 tackles and two sacks in his four starts compared to 11 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks in the previous five games when he wasn’t a starter.
“I’m just making the best of my opportunities,” Branch said. “I’m going in every day and grinding. Every day I do whatever the coaches ask of me. The first few games I wasn’t a starter. But I just kept my head down and worked my tail off, and now it’s starting to work in my favor.”
But that’s not the full story. Branch has gotten pressure on plays he didn’t collect a sack. He has multiple quarterback hits in recent weeks. He’s become a problem for opposing left tackles.
The Dolphins have been constantly looking for someone to play on the other side of Wake and perhaps a guy to succeed Wake some day. But Olivier Vernon came and went. Dion Jordan hasn’t worked out. Mario Williams seemed like the guy at the beginning of the season, but that idea has faded.
Now it’s Branch's turn.
“He’s been a helluva guy to play with,” Wake said. “Helluva teammate in the locker room. But on the field he’s a force. He brings a lot of energy. He’s non-stop. He just keeps going no matter what.
“And, obviously, he’s getting to the quarterback. So whenever he’s on the field good things are going to happen. And whenever you have a guy like that playing on the other side of you, that makes your job easier as well. Glad to have him.”
And that’s where it gets interesting.
The Dolphins have Andre Branch now.
But because one-year deals, amazingly, last only one year, the question is can Miami keep Branch past this season? Will Miami try? Does he want to stay?
It’s no secret that Branch wants to play well enough to earn a long-term contract after the season.
He wants that for security.
“Right,” he said.
He wants it for his family.
He wants to secure his future.
And Branch would love that all to come in Miami.
“One hundred percent,” he said. “We got something going here, and it’s fun. I wake up every morning, and you have a reason to wake up. It’s not just, ‘I woke up to another one.’
“The coaching staff brings energy each and every day. The players bring energy each and every day. And if anyone’s slacking, you’re going to know. I’m my biggest critic, and I never want to let my brothers or my coaches down. So for me, it’s starting to feel like family. It’s a lot of things that when you wake up, I haven’t felt in a very long time. So I’m happy here.”
So we know Branch wants to stay with the team. But that is a two-way street both player and team must travel. And that street needs to be lined with the right amount of gold as to make both parties feel comfortable.
I know if Branch continues on his current arc, the Dolphins will want him back. But I don’t know what Branch is going to ask from the team nor what the team will be willing to pay.
All I know is this is working now. Unexpectedly.
“In this league it’s tough to be successful,” Branch said. “When you have a good thing going, you don’t want to leave that. I’ve been on losing teams, and this feels better. This feels good. It feels like I’m back in college again. We’re winning. I haven’t won this many games in a row since college. For me, it’s fun again.”