Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake recorded his seventh sack of the season against the New England Patriots last season, in the Dolphins seventh game of the year. Unfortunately for Wake and the Dolphins, it would be the four-time Pro Bowl selection’s last sack and last game of the year. Wake tore his Achilles tendon during the game and missed the last nine games.
Now, as the Dolphins get ready for the 2016 season, opening training camp this week, Wake is back and looking to pick up where he left off last year.
“That’s the big question. The elephant in the room.,” Wake said on Saturday after the team’s morning practice when asked about his health. “The elephant (Achilles) feels pretty good. It feels like it’s been forever – probably my longest offseason in the history of my playing days. Being able to get back out here, run around, get all the juices flowing – it feels good. There are a lot of things that you can’t really replicate in the bubble or in the rehab. Out here, you get those live action, fast-paced, high-tempo things so (I’m) getting after it and starting to build that toughness. I’m enjoying it.”
“As soon as it happened, I knew,” Wake explained of the injury. He added, speaking of his mindset on the play, “Get to the quarterback. That was the only thing on my mind. All the other things are kind of in the distant, distant realm of your thought process. I’ve actually watched the play once. Even after (the injury), I still tried to get the job done on one foot but I didn’t really have anything left. I went down and the guys came and got me and from then on, it was all about doing everything I can to get back on the field.”
The Dolphins have been cautious with Wake thus far in 2016. During the team’s offseason training program, Wake was limited in nearly every practice, and he has seen the same kind of treatment early in training camp. “You got to look at the big picture. You can’t be a guy who just thinks about today; you got to think about December and being smart about what we’re doing now and having a plan. You can’t just go out here and say, ‘All right, first day, let’s do 100 reps.’ You got to make sure that you take the right steps. We’ve got a great staff here who has obviously been working really closely with me and making sure those things happen. You got to kind of turn that wild animal down a little bit and try to think long term and make sure that come December, whatever date, in the fourth quarter, you’re full go. That’s my goal and so far I think we’re doing the right thing.”
Wake opened up about the difficulties in rehab since the October 29 injury. “The funny thing is the physical part – I'm not going to say it’s easy – but it's something that you're very used to. I've built muscle throughout my life – built strength, you run, you lift – all of those things are part of your daily routine, part of your job description. Muscle fatigue, feeling that burn, so to speak is not new. Running is not new. Lifting weights is not new. Being mentally strong when you can't get out of bed and you have to put your feet up for 30 hours a day, that's the hard part. Watching your team play and you're not out there, that's the hard part. Being on crutches, being a little more dependent, when you’re kind of an independent guy, those are the hard things. It wasn't the physical part at all that was an issue. I've always tried my best in the offseason to stress myself, to challenge myself. But the part where you're kind of out of the game and you're limited mentally, those are the issues that you’ve got to deal with more than the physical ones.”
Wake continued when asked about what he was thinking during the “30 hours a day” he was sitting with his feet up. “That was the hardest part, to be honest. It was that time when I was, quote-unquote, immobile. I'm not a guy who watches TV. I don't sit in bed. I'm not built that way. So for a doctor to say, 'Hey, you can't work out. You can't get out of bed. You can't walk around, you can’t, can’t, can’t…' that’s like a four letter word – can’t – to me. I just wanted to get up. I wanted to do one-legged hops up and down my stairs in my room. But obviously, you have to think long-term. You have to think about December and next year and so-on and so-forth, and be smart. That next level of intellect had to overcome that raging beast that I feel like I am and calm myself down and do the right thing.”
Wake was asked to describe a typical day in rehab for him. “It depends on which stage of rehab. The first stage is just sitting in bed and doing nothing. That's post-surgery. That was the hardest part. I actually enjoyed the, 'Get up, go to training room, ride the bike or jog on the treadmill, do some calf exercises, start plyos, change of direction, ladder drills.' All of those things that you kind of build yourself up, those are the things that I enjoy. That's football. That's what we do. That's what I'm about to go do right now. It’s not abnormal to lift weights or run or do plyos. Sitting in bed and being still, that was the abnormal part. A typical day wasn't much different than a typical offseason day for me, where you get up, eat, train, take a break, you rest and train again. It's just you focus more on that injured part of your body than you would do if you were working on a total body in the regular season.”
“I have people close to me – a support system, family members – who have been there for me from Day 1,” Wake said of mentally getting through the rehab process. “There are times where maybe you want to go get something out of the kitchen or whatever it is, and you can't. Those are the people who help you; the days that you're down and thinking about the things that you're missing out on, they're the ones who are there for you. In this world, there are not many people you can rely on, but I have people who I can, that I trust, and those are the people who got me through.”
The Dolphins are thought to be looking to use Wake in more of a “pass-rush specialist” role, similar to how the team used Jason Taylor near the end of his career. The move would look to keep Wake, who turned 34 in January, fresh throughout the season. Asked about getting only 40-45 snaps a game, and if that is enough plays for him, Wake replied, “Enough to do whatever I can to help the team win will be enough. I’ve never had a number. Some days I’ve had 80 snaps and there have been days when I haven’t had that many; but when I’m out there, just doing whatever you can to make those snaps the best snaps, that’s all I’m really concerned about.”
“You’re talking distant future,” Wake answered when asked if he is anticipating fewer snaps this season. “I don’t know. You’d have to ask some of the guys who kind of make more of those decisions. Until they put another zero on my check, I don’t think I have that power yet.”
Head coach Adam Gase weighed in on his mindset about Wake and how to get him ready for the season. “For us, the biggest thing is, if you watch individual (drills), he’s doing a lot in the individual (drills). You always forget that that time is valuable for those players and it is very taxing on them. So you can’t just look at, ‘Well he’s only getting two plays a period,’ or ‘He’s only getting four plays a period.’ I think today they ended up going almost 30-plus minutes in individual. I mean that’s a lot of time on him. So the good thing is, when you do have a sports science department, when you have a strength and conditioning staff and a training staff that’s doing things the way that we’re doing it, they’re able to keep an eye on him, inform us ‘Alright, this is where he’s at today,’ and we’ll just keep doing a good job of monitoring that going throughout camp.”
Wake, of course, never doubted he would be back with the Dolphins, ready to play again. Asked when he knew he would come back, Wake simply responded, “The second the play happened.”