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Kelly: The last legendary Cane joins the Dolphins to anchor Miami’s defense | Opinion

Calais Campbell is the last of a dying breed.

He’s the last true Miami Hurricane from the glory days when the Canes dominated college football, an era where opponents once cowered at the mention of The U.

He’s the only one left from that era in the early 2000’s because he has lasted 16 seasons in the NFL, and if we’re being honest he has done far more than merely hold on.

In fact, the 37-year-old is still dominant. He still barks loudly, and even bites.

“What keeps me going is the love I got for the game. I really am just a true fan,” Campbell said Tuesday. “I talked to guys who are younger and they ask why are you still doing it? Cause I love it, and I’m still good at it.”

So good that he’s still a force. It’s rare that the biggest signing of the offseason is a team’s last, an addition made in June. But that’s certainly the case for Campbell’s South Florida homecoming with the Miami Dolphins, which was made official Tuesday when he passed a physical, and he signed his contract.

An aged, but accomplished veteran who is still playing impactful football — 56 tackles, 6.5 sacks in 712 snaps last season for the Atlanta Falcons — wasn’t just added to patch up a defensive that was gutted by free agency and roster purging, and had its defensive line patched with the signing of five minimum salary players.

A Pro Football Hall of Fame contender, a member of the 2010’s All-Decade team who is the third-leading active sack producer, a locker room leader, a community activist was added to a Dolphins defense that lost their shepherd when Christian Wilkins left to sign a lucrative free agent deal with the Las Vegas Raiders.

A man who is intimately familiar with the new defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver is here to teach his peers how to clog the trenches, set the edge and harass quarterbacks in their new defense with the hope that he can inject the secret sauce that will help the Dolphins gain the toughness needed to become Super Bowl contender.

“I haven’t had a chance to play in that big game since my rookie year,” Campbell said, referring to when the Arizona Cardinals lost 27-23 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl 43 in 2009. “Coming to a team like this I feel like there is an opportunity here.

“I’ve been playing for a long time and I feel like I had some teams that’s worthy of it, and we didn’t get it done. I believe that this team has a chance,” Campbell said of the Dolphins, who were 11-6 last season but had the season soiled by its end-of-the year collapse, a stretch where Miami lost the final two regular-season games, and then got smoked 26-7 by the Kansas City Chiefs in the first round of the playoffs.

Coach Mike McDaniel’s offense had been a top-performing unit for the past two seasons, and last year spent most of 2023 as the NFL’s No. 1-ranked offense. And it doesn’t hurt that Miami added Odell Beckham Jr. and tight end Jonnu Smith to enhance the weaponry.

On defense, Miami finished 2023 ranked 10th and set all types of franchise records. And that’s after losing six starters in the season’s final month. But the defense was gutted by free agency, especially in the trenches, and will be breaking in a new defense that will be led by Weaver.

According to Campbell, Weaver was one of the main selling points for why he picked the Dolphins over some of the other franchises that had standing offers on the table.

“We talked a lot during the process,” Campbell said, referring to his free agency status. “He knows what I’m capable of doing, and he understands my mind and what I’m capable of….he knows I’m never going to try to hurt the team, but I take calculated risks at times, and play with different techniques at times. But everything is calculated.

“That belief and trust, he is going to allow me to do the things I know will make me successful.”

Campbell admitted he considered retirement this summer, but once his family gave him the green light to continue playing, the Dolphins shot to the top of his list because of the opportunity Miami presented.

Now it’s about figuring out a way to help the Dolphins win the one thing that’s missing from his football resume.

“The love for the game has never left, not even a little bit. I mean, obviously, there was a time where I was a lot [faster] and athletic, but I’m still pretty athletic and still can get the job done on a football field,” said Campbell, who has started 225 NFL games. “I’ve had to learn to use other parts of my game, bringing out more strengths, but I still have enough finesse and everything else. I got a full arsenal of tools. But what keeps me going though, is the love for the game.”