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Miami Dolphins plan with Cameron Wake is be cautious and use sparingly if necessary

The Miami Dolphins are going to be very careful, indeed, they are going to take precautions with the return of defensive end Cameron Wake from a ruptured Achilles.

And if that means Wake isn't the starter and taking all the repetitions in practice the first day of training camp, so be it. And if that means Wake isn't the starter and taking 40-50 snaps at the start of the regular season, so be it.

Indeed, the Dolphins are planning for those exact scenario, per people familiar with the team's thinking.

Wake, 34, may not be ready for a full load early in the 2016 season, the team believes. And even once he is fully 100 percent, he will not be asked to be a full time player anymore.

That is why defensive end Andre Branch, an under-the-radar acquisition on a one-year deal, is considered the starter initially until Wake is fully healthy. At least that is what the team told Branch when he asked about his role.

“A very prominent role," Branch told reporters on a telephone conference call Friday. "Basically, (I’ll) be opposite of Mario Williams and then on rush downs, when Cam Wake gets back, it will be me, Cam (Wake), (Ndamukong) Suh and Mario (Williams). Those guys have been playing at a high level their whole career and I’m ready to learn from those guys.”

Those guys haven't been together very long at all.

Wake and Suh played only seven games together before Wake ruptured his Achilles in October 2015. Williams and Branch -- who may get more reps at defensive end than anyone else until Wake is ready -- just joined the team days ago.

So the Dolphins defensive line will look different in 2016 after losing Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby.

Indeed, Branch is supposed to play the Shelby role. But, again, Wake's health might thrust him toward more snaps than Wake.

And now you can understand why the Dolphins wanted to restructure Wake's contract last month. He is scheduled to cost the team $9.8 million against the cap. That is a fair figure for a full-time 45-50 snap defensive end who is an accomplished pass rusher.

But Wake might get perhaps half that many snaps -- at least early in the season. And most of those might come in passing situations.

That makes him a very expensive part-time player.

The Dolphins solution was either push Wake to continue playing his traditional role as a full-time player or trim his cap number, and likely his salary. The negotiations to cut the cap number didn't succeed. The team doesn't intend to force Wake to play more snaps because it doesn't want to risk another injury or a re-injury. The Dolphins also don't want Wake wearing down before the end of the season.

And so right now Wake is a part-time player getting paid like what he used to be -- a fulltime defensive end who is among the NFL's better pass rushers.