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Titans: Cameron Wake has a way to reach 'top percentile'

The Tennessean (Nashville) logo The Tennessean (Nashville) 7/30/2019 Joe Rexrode
Cameron Wake in a blue shirt: Cameron Wake (91) DE 6-3 263 (Eleven Year Exp.) Penn State © George Walker IV / Tennessean.com Cameron Wake (91) DE 6-3 263 (Eleven Year Exp.) Penn State

Undrafted out of Penn State in 2005 after a modest college career, unloaded by the New York Giants before a single day of training camp, unhappy with the life of mortgage brokering, Derek Wake believed he still had a run at football in him.

Enter a job at Bally Total Fitness in Greenbelt, Maryland, near where Wake grew up. Exit beer. Exit pizza. Exit fried foods. Exit any frivolity that might interfere with the quest. Enter Cameron Wake.

That’s his middle name, mistakenly printed on his name tag at Bally, and it’s a story that gets a fresh run in Nashville this fall along with its author. Wake’s new Titans teammates marvel often at his impossibly chiseled 37-year-old body – “Have you seen him? He’s the Incredible Hulk,” linebacker LaTroy Lewis said – but this alter ego is actually just 13.

He was born in 2006, got a Canadian Football League shot in 2007, dominated the league in two seasons with the BC Lions and has 98 career sacks, five Pro Bowls and one All-Pro selection to show for his 10 seasons with the Miami Dolphins. He is tied for No. 33 on the NFL’s all-time sack list. He’s the only player in the league to have at least six in every season since 2010.

He’s the only member of the Titans who could credibly make a case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame if his career ended today.

“I’d say Cameron has done pretty well for himself,” he said.

So now we ask what he can do for Nashville. Wake signed a three-year, $23 million deal, which sounds excessive for a 37-year-old coming off his least productive pass-rushing season (six sacks) since he was a 27-year-old rookie in 2009. But then you look at him, a 6-foot-3 frame packed with 263 sinewy pounds. You watch him move around on the field in camp. You listen to him talk about how he got here. You understand general manager Jon Robinson’s intrigue.

Titans' outside pass rush hinges on Landry, Wake, Finch

Robinson said there is “certainly tread on the tires” after signing Wake, and the Titans need some. This could be a special defense, if it can get enough pass rush the old-fashioned way – with four rushers and without always resorting to the exotic.

Second-year outside linebacker Harold Landry must spearhead those efforts on the outside while Jurrell Casey does his thing inside. Sharif Finch and Wake are splitting first-team reps on the other side of Landry in camp. Kamalei Correa, Gimel President and Lewis, a second-year pro out of Tennessee, make up the next wave, and maybe a Rashaan Evans sneaks outside at times.

The depth chart indicates heavy reliance on Wake. Much of the roster is openly fascinated with him.

“He’s looked like that the whole time I’ve been in the league – he hasn’t given me the secret yet,” Titans cornerback Logan Ryan said.

But Wake is happy to spread the gospel.

Even if the production in Nashville doesn’t approach Wake’s best days in Miami, his presence here should matter. Landry has taken to him and says of Wake’s teachings: “The way to become great is to do all the little things, right? And being consistent every day. So while you’re out eating this and eating that, someone else is sticking to their diet and getting better.”

'One inch is a complete difference'

The Cameron Wake Common-Sense Diet (cookbook pending) is not extreme. It isn’t vegan. It isn’t keto. It’s simply about eating healthy foods and swearing off bad ones. Lots of green. Healthy protein. All natural, nothing processed. Wake considers every time at the table an opportunity to go one way or the other, and he still remembers the last time he cheated – a single pastry while traveling in France in 2015.

“My body is my engine,” Wake said. “If your brain is your engine, you’re not going to do anything to mess it up. If you’re a pianist, you’re going to take care of your hands. If you’re a dancer, you’ll take care of your feet. I think in terms of return on investment. Let’s say there’s two guys. One is eating a salad; one is eating a cheeseburger. Technically, if you say salads taste terrible, it will taste terrible for 10 minutes. You ‘suffer’ for 10 minutes. He enjoys his cheeseburger and french fries for 10 minutes. Now we walk away. We go practice. The return on that investment is probably like 24 hours of return, of feeling better, feeling quicker, feeling lighter, feeling more alert. All those things a good diet will do for you.

“Whereas vice versa, he enjoyed 10 minutes of that cheeseburger – or whatever the hell he was eating – but now for the next 24 hours it’s a loss. You’re actually losing out on those certain little things. Guys do extra conditioning, lift, do cold tub, all those things. But then when it comes to the table, they miss out. And when it comes to this game, the difference between a great guy and a good guy and a guy who’s not on this team is this much.”

Cameron Wake in a blue shirt: Cameron Wake is entering his 11th season in the NFL. © George Walker IV / Tennessean.com Cameron Wake is entering his 11th season in the NFL.

Wake held his right index finger and thumb an inch apart. And he wasn’t done. And this isn’t just about food.

“So if having that salad will give me that one more step, or that one more recall on something a coach said. That’s one play, which means one game, which can change the entire season,” Wake said. “It’s a lifestyle. For me, for what I do, one inch is a complete difference. A sack, a hit, a nothing. I am willing to take every single advantage now, because when I retire or maybe 10 years from now, cheeseburgers won’t be any different. They’ll still be cheeseburgers. There will still be pizza. There will still be video games. ‘Fortnite’ is around now; it used to be ‘Halo.’ I avoid all of it.

“I mean, if there was such a thing as a video game was only around for two years and then it would disappear from planet Earth, then I’d understand like, ‘All right you want to play it today.’ But video games have been around since I was a kid and will probably be around long after I’m gone from the Earth. Now, being an NFL football player? That is now, and it will be gone. It can be gone any year. It won’t be around for long. Maximize the opportunity.”

UP NEXT
UP NEXT

If Wake needs a break from the business at hand, from meticulous self-scouting and playbook study and body sculpting, he might revisit the list of 2005 NFL draftees – all the pass rushers supposedly better than him who aren’t in the league anymore. It’s a fun read, best enjoyed with an apple. Then the guy who was overlooked as Derek is quickly back to business as Cameron.

“This is about reaching the absolute top percentile of your potential,” Wake said. And imagine what it might mean to the Titans if his newest disciples do the same.

Reach Joe Rexrode at jrexrode@tennessean.com and follow him on Twitter @joerexrode.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Titans: Cameron Wake has a way to reach 'top percentile'

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