OWINGS MILLS — Cameron Wake took a major detour before reaching the NFL, winding through the icy provinces north of the border and the relative football obscurity of the Canadian Football League.
Now, the Miami Dolphins’ swift outside linebacker is emerging as one of the most feared pass rushers in the league.
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Maryland native is the prototype hybrid outside linebacker, a converted defensive end who relentlessly chases down quarterbacks.
Even though he’s established now and ranks fourth in the AFC with 6 1/2 sacks, Wake plays the game as if he’s concerned that he’ll be shipped back to Canada.
"This guy doesn’t really forget where he’s come from," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said Wednesday in a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "I think he’s a pretty humble player. He knows how hard he had to work to get into this position and he just doesn’t really forget it.
"He’ll remind you of it if you bring it up. He’ll let you know that this is where I came from and I don’t forget about it. I think that’s a good thing, a really good quality for some of these players that have bounced around a little bit to have. And he certainly has it."
The Ravens are concerned about accounting for Wake’s pure speed as an upfield rusher.
Prior to going undrafted out of Penn State, the former DeMatha Catholic player ran the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds.
With that kind of presence outside, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will need to get the football out of his hands quickly to prevent being sacked.
“Yeah, they’ve been playing pretty good, and he’s definitely been disrupting some of the pass rush, some of the timing and things," said Flacco, who has been sacked 10 times in seven games. "We’ll have a plan for him, and I think I’ll just have to have trust in my offensive line that they’re going to get the job done like they’ve been doing all year.”
Wake was named the CFL Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year in 2008 when he recorded 16 sacks for the British-Columbia Lions. The following season, Wake led the CFL again with 23 sacks.
The Dolphins signed Wake to a four-year, $4.9 million contract last year after he starred for two seasons in Canada.
Wake chose the Dolphins after working out for eight NFL teams and drawing interest from a total of 17 franchises, including the St. Louis Rams, New Orleans Saints, Buffalo Bills and the Minnesota Vikings.
Now, the Ravens have to account for Wake’s ability to pressure the quarterback.
"That’s the most speed we’re going to see," offensive tackle Marshal Yanda said. "He’s close to James Harrison’s speed, but he’s quicker than Harrison. He’s definitely going to get off the ball. He’s kind of like Dwight Freeney as far as getting off the ball.
"He’s got that get-off speed. He’s a good football player. He’s a force. We’re game-planning for him, and we’re going to be ready. We’re not going to overlook him. That’s for sure."
Last year, Wake recorded 5 1/2 sacks in a situational pass rusher role primarily on third downs.
He’s already well ahead of that pace this season and posted three sacks in a win over the Green Bay Packers.
In 21 career NFL games, Wake has a dozen sacks.
As much as Wake is known for his speed, he’s also building a reputation for having a relentless nature. He’s constantly running and refusing to stay blocked.
"Oh man, the guy is very fast," offensive tackle Michael Oher said. "The guy has a motor that doesn’t stop for some reason. He gets after it. He loves the game.
"That’s how you got to play the game, hungry every Sunday. Very tough, very tough. You got to get after it and be ready for Sunday."
The Ravens’ tackle tandem won’t match Wake’s superior speed, but they can counteract his burst with sound fundamentals and positioning.
It’s critical that they get a strong hand punch on him when the football is snapper and stay in front of him when he redirects his charge.
"You’ve got to get off the ball with him," Yanda said. "If you don’t, you can get turned and you can get beat. He’s having a hell of a year. We’ve got to do our best to stop him.