Commentary

DeMarcus Ware needs to be leader

Like Dirk Nowitzki, Cowboys All-Pro must leave comfort zone and challenge team

Updated: June 20, 2012, 2:08 PM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- DeMarcus Ware will never be a look-at-me leader.

Ware will never be the guy that his Dallas Cowboys teammates gather around before a game to listen to a fiery motivational speech/sound bite. That's just not the style of a superstar who is reserved by nature.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
AP Photo/James D SmithNo one in the Cowboys locker room can command the kind of respect DeMarcus Ware does.

"I'm not the hoo-rah guy for TV. I'm the hoo-rah guy in the locker room," Ware said. "What you guys don't see is me taking that leadership role for the defense, for the rookies, for the older guys and just doing what you need to do. You've got to lead by example, but sometimes you've got to check some guys and put them in place."

The Cowboys need Ware, a man described last summer by the NFL Network's Warren Sapp as incapable of leading ants to a picnic, to back up those words. He needs to back up those words if he wants his legacy to be more than the greatest Cowboy to never win a Super Bowl.

If you don't think a star can develop as a leader throughout the course of his career, perhaps you missed the championship parade through downtown Dallas last summer.

It's not like Dirk Nowitzki delivered Ray Lewis-like pep talks during the Mavericks' championship run. However, there's no question Nowitzki was a leader on that title team.

Nowitzki did it with his performance, rising in clutch occasions time and time again. That's the lone nitpick you can make about Ware's performance last season, that he didn't make enough critical, game-on-the-line plays, especially as the Cowboys faded at the end of the season.

Nowitzki, who was part of a leadership committee along with fiery big man Tyson Chandler and savvy point guard Jason Kidd, also didn't hesitate to make his voice heard when he thought it would help.

A small part of that is accepting the responsibility of being a public spokesman for the team, in particular being accessible and accountable when things go wrong. More importantly, it means a willingness to challenge teammates when standards aren't met, whether it's a heat-of-the-moment confrontation or a private discussion.

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.

As was the case with Nowitzki, Ware has built impeccable credibility with his career accomplishments. He's arguably the most destructive defensive force in franchise history, a six-time Pro Bowler who is a half-sack away from triple digits and has plenty of prime left as he nears his 30th birthday.

Yet, at this point in Ware's career, he qualifies as an old head who can't leave the leadership responsibilities to others, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Guys such as Bradie James and Keith Brooking, who attempted to serve in that role as their skills declined, are gone. Young inside linebacker Sean Lee, a natural leader, can help fill the void, but nobody else in that locker room can command the kind of respect that Ware does.

"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."

It's not enough for a superstar on a team trying to take a major step forward to just set the standard. He must be willing to enforce it, too, whether the cameras catch it or not.

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