Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake has the fourth most sacks in the NFL heading into Week 9 with seven total, sitting just 1.5 sacks out of the league lead. Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake will finish the season with seven sacks, however, as he was placed on injured reserve this week after tearing his Achilles tendon against the New England Patriots last week.
(By the way, did you notice the moment when Wake tore his Achilles, an injury that sends normal players to the ground in a heap and in pain? Not Wake. He continued rushing quarterback Tom Brady, despite literally only having one leg that worked. Video via Streamable.com)
How do the Dolphins replace a player who produces like no one else on the team, is the emotional leader of the defense, and a player who will give 100-percent on every single play, even when he has a debilitating injury? The answer is, the do not.
But they have to try.
The Dolphins three weeks ago switched linebacker Chris McCain to defensive end, a move that should allow the team to benefit from McCain's athleticism. "I just think the guy is unique, because of his body type, to say at 230 pounds to slug it out all day long as a D-lineman in this league is tough to do, 230 or 235 whatever he is, but he is athletic," Miami defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said this week of McCain. "To use the guy in some different roles is what we're kind of trying to nail down for him, whether it be rushing the passer or dropping in coverage; whatever it is he brings a unique skill set and we're going to try to take advantage of it."
McCain, who has been buried on the depth chart all season at linebacker, explained to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Omar Kelly this week the simple reason he has not seen a lot of playing time this year. "I'm not a linebacker," the second year player said. The Dolphins have, for two years, looked at where to put McCain, using him both as a defensive end and a linebacker, but seeming to like his abilities in pass coverage as a deciding factor to keep him at linebacker this year.
McCain is has flashed during his limited playing time last season and during the preseason. He practices well, but he just has not been able to crack the game-day lineup. "It is a little frustrating if you keep hearing that you've been doing really well, you've been practicing hard and you don't dress," McCain continued to tell Kelly. "Right now, that I have the opportunity, I've got to make the best of it."
The Dolphins will not rely just on McCain, however, as the team will also look to Derrick Shelby and Terrence Fede to fill the Wake-sized hole on the left side of the defensive line. "Edge rushers as we all know just don't come around every day," Anarumo explained. "The guys that we have stepping in Derrick Shelby and Chris McCain and (Terrence) Fede and obviously (Olivier Vernon) O.V. is going to be doing his thing, we've got a good group of guys that are talented, talented people and we're fortunate that we are in the position we are and those guys are capable of stepping up and making plays."
Shelby has 11 tackles and a pass defense through the first seven games this year, and has been seeing increased playing time, even with Wake healthy as the Dolphins looked to ease the number of snaps Wake was in the game, rotating him more into a pass rush specialist than an every down defensive end. Fede has 14 tackles through the team's first seven games.
"To be honest with you, overall we feel, and I've said this before, I feel good about Derrick Shelby," Campbell stated. "I feel like Chris McCain could bring something to the table as well. Obviously that production that has come from Cam now just needs to be from another person. Whether that means now (defensive tackle) Earl (Mitchell) is picking up some or (defensive end Ndamukong) Suh's picking up some more. Or now Chris McCain gets up a couple here or one here. Or Derrick Shelby. But that's how I see it. I don't see it as we have to manufacture or do anything that we haven't been doing."
Asked if this week the team will start Shelby, then rotate in McCain and Fede, Campbell replied, "I think that's kind of generally the thought behind it, but I could see (Derrick) Shelby playing a little bit more than he has been."
The Dolphins defense has to come out and establish itself early this week, especially after being embarrassed in Week 3 by the Bills, a game that ended 41-14. Miami will be looking to prove they are not that same team, and they are not the team that was embarrassed by the New England Patriots last week. The defense has to come with attitude, and they are going to have to do it as a group effort, with Shelby, McCain, and Fede all filling in for Wake. It will not be easy, but they have to be able to get after Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, early and consistently. This week, and the rest of the year, the Dolphins' pass rush will be a group effort.