Of leadership and DeMarcus Ware

June, 20, 2012
6/20/12
10:08
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Perhaps because we crave certainty in an uncertain world, we have an inclination to define our pro athletes -- to decide what they are and glue that definition to them. Reputations become impossible to shed, evolution becomes an inconceivable concept. Once you're the guy who botched the field-goal snap at the end of a playoff game, you're always going to be the guy who can't come through in the clutch, kind of no matter what else you do in the decade that follows.

This occurred to me while reading Tim MacMahon's column on Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware and the need for him to assume a leadership role on the team. Does the fact that Ware has not, to this point, been a vocal locker-room leader mean that he never will be? Tim thinks not, and points to the nearby example of the Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki as proof that "a star can develop as a leader throughout the course of his career."
Nowitzki, like Ware a nice guy, has acknowledged that he had to force himself out of his comfort zone to become a leader. The Cowboys need Ware, a captain, to do the same thing.

There is actually an advantage to Ware's quiet nature. If he sounds off, his teammates would know it's fueled purely by a desire to win, not to craft an image. He's not going to flap his gums just for the sake of it. His words would be especially impactful.

"A guy like that says something, you're going to listen to him," said defensive end Jason Hatcher, who praises Ware as a lead-by-example guy but created waves this winter with honest comments about the Cowboys' lack of vocal leadership.

...

"When you sit back and think about it, guys come in and they look up to you," Ware said. "They look up to how you play the game. You've got to sort of set that example and also let them know where they stand in the whole scheme of things."

Teams evolve, and so do players. The guys who were the locker-room leaders on the defense early in Ware's career are, by and large, gone, and he's now the guy to whom teammates look. The success of the Cowboys' defense, assuming they continue to upgrade personnel this year and in coming years, will rest largely on Ware's ability to lead it. Whether he needs to do that quietly, vocally, by example or some combination of all of those, that is who he is at this point in his career -- the one to whom leadership responsibility must fall. The good thing for Cowboys fans is that he appears, based on what we read in Tim's column, to know that.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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