A year ago, Cameron Wake made a successful transition from CFL defensive star to NFL pass-rushing specialist.
Now, the former B.C. Lions standout is trying to prove he belongs as an every-down player with the Miami Dolphins at outside linebacker - beginning with the season-opener Sunday at Buffalo against the Bills.
Wake recorded 5 1/2 sacks in 14 games last season with Miami, playing mostly in obvious passing situations where he demonstrated the same ability to get to quarterbacks that made him the CFL's most outstanding defensive player in his only two seasons with the Lions (2007 and 2008).
But, as a defensive lineman in Canada, Wake didn't have to concern himself as much with providing run support or pass coverage like he's being asked to do in the NFL. And while there's no doubt he has the physical attributes to take on those responsibilities, there has been a learning curve involved in his preparation as an every-down linebacker.
"When you take a guy who has had his hand down [in a three-point stance]and all of a sudden you stand him up, that's a whole other world out there from a coverage standpoint," Miami head coach Tony Sparano said.
"Those are the things those guys have to work the hardest on, the route recognition. Those things are a big meal on their plate, so that's the thing Cam has had to grow the most at."
Wake played linebacker at Penn State University, but his Lions teammates swore he was versatile enough to play any position in a CFL defence except inside halfback.
That athleticism, combined with 39 sacks in two seasons, created widespread interest from the NFL at the conclusion of the 2008 CFL campaign, with workouts for several teams including Buffalo. The demand for his services resulted in a four-year deal with the Dolphins worth up to $4.9-million (U.S.), including a $1-million signing bonus, the largest ever for a player jumping from the CFL.
This season, the Dolphins have a new defensive co-ordinator in Mike Nolan, The former San Francisco 49ers head coach will employ a non-traditional 3-4 defence that is expected to involve elements from other schemes.
That's going to put a premium on the versatility of Miami's linebackers, something for which the coaches feel Wake is ready.
"Cameron's progress [since last season]has been really good," Sparano said. "Cameron is a guy that came to us with one outstanding characteristic and that was the pass rush.
"At that point, he was really green as a linebacker. From our end, [the off-season]has been really productive for Cameron in learning the details of the linebacker position. I've seen great growth," the coach said.
"Now, when I watch him out there, he doesn't look like a defensive end playing linebacker. He looks like a linebacker."