January 10, 2008
It was a quarterback's dream. DeMarcus Ware was nowhere to be found.
The linebacker who had the most sacks in the NFL this season was supposed to be in a hallway behind the Dallas Cowboys' locker room to talk about becoming All-Pro for the first time.
However, Ware had slipped into an office, safe from reporters.
Nothing unusual about that. For someone so visible during games, Ware does his best to avoid attention the rest of the time.
Lately, though he would prefer to be left alone, there can be no hiding what Ware has accomplished -- not when he got votes for NFL defensive player of the year on Monday; become only the second Dallas linebacker to make All-Pro (and first since 1970) on Wednesday; and will be a key figure in a divisional playoff game against the New York Giants on Sunday.
Perhaps Ware avoids the limelight to keep from blowing his cover. The ferocious quarterback hunter fans see on game day, is really a friendly, soft-spoken guy the rest of the time.
"A quiet country boy," teammate Patrick Crayton calls him.
On the field?
"He's a beast," Crayton said.
Speed is what makes Ware so dominating. Whether it's chasing a quarterback or shedding a block to catch a running back, offensive players know they must always be on the lookout for No. 94.
"He makes more plays from that position than most any guy I've seen," said Cowboys coach Wade Phillips, who has seen plenty in his 31 NFL seasons.
Phillips isn't just puffing up his guy. Consider these numbers:
-- Ware had 14 sacks this season, tied for third-most in the NFL. While he would've liked to have led the league, he's proud to have had 1 1/2 more sacks than any other linebacker.
-- He also was in on 84 tackles, far more than any of the top-20 sack leaders.
-- His four forced fumbles tied for ninth among all players.
-- With four passes defended, the former defensive end apparently has figured out the coverage part of his new position.
Something else worth noting: he's only 25 and in his third season, and his tackle and sack stats have gone up every season so far.
"Thanks a lot for bringing that up. I just had my lunch," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said when asked about Ware and his bookend partner at outside linebacker, Greg Ellis.
As division rivals, the Giants are quite familiar with Ware, already having faced him six times in his career. New York defensive end Osi Umenyiora knows Ware even better, having played alongside him in high school and college.
"He has a knack for making plays," Umenyiora said. "He is extremely athletic, very fast, very physical."
Umenyiora has this anecdote from early in Ware's college career at Troy, when the starter in front of him got hurt.
"The very first play they put him in, he went 50 yards and chased somebody down from the other side of the football field and caught him," Umenyiora said. "I just said `Jesus.' That's when I knew he was going to be good."
Bill Parcells could tell, too.
In 2005, he converted Dallas to the 3-4 defensive scheme that helped him win two Super Bowls with the Giants. A crowning achievement was drafting Ware with the 11th overall pick. He said then he expected Ware to blossom into a Lawrence Taylor-like force.
Funny thing is, Ware has come close to that this year now that he's part of Phillips' version of the 3-4, the variation that helped make Shawne Merriman -- the other guy Parcells considered drafting in '05 -- a star for San Diego.
"I think he has the potential to be better than Lawrence Taylor," Crayton said. "I know that's saying a whole lot, (but) go back and look at their styles, the way they play the game. ... Now, he might not have that craziness that Lawrence had, but when he's on the field, you feel for some quarterbacks that are sitting there."
The lack of a mean streak actually has been a knock against Ware, but just because he's laid back doesn't mean he lacks desire.
For instance, Ware challenged himself to be more consistent this year. The result was at least one sack in 11 of the last 14 games, never going consecutive weeks without one.
"That's what I promised myself I was going to do," Ware said, "and I did it."
Ware wound up with the club's single-season record for sacks by a linebacker, breaking the mark he set last season. He holds the first, third and fifth spots on that chart after only three seasons. No wonder he's headed to a second straight Pro Bowl.
"I think DeMarcus' best years are in front of him because he's constantly learning different stuff, different pass-rush moves," Ellis said. "He's able to adapt as games go along."
Ware's next big challenge is to dominate a playoff game. He had a sack in a wild-card game against