OXNARD, Calif. – Is it fair to say the early returns are in on DeMarcus Ware?
Three weeks into what has been an impressive training camp, Ware finally stepped onto the playing field last Friday against the Raiders. He didn't even play five snaps, but the results were telling.
"He just does an amazing job," said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett on Sunday. "He brought that same intensity to the game. He played four snaps in the game and showed up in three of them."
That isn't exactly surprising, given Ware's performance since reporting to Oxnard. Questions abounded this offseason about the eight-year veteran's transition to defensive end, especially since he was rehabbing from injury during most of the Cowboys' OTA and minicamp work.
Ware is fully healthy for the first time since his injury-riddled 2012 campaign. As has been well-documented by now, his litany of ailments during the Cowboys' 8-8 season reduced him to a "one-armed man" by the end of the year.
But Ware said playing through those injuries helped him going into this year.
"It's never ok not to play. To me, it's not just a game – this is my job, this is what I do," he said. "That sort of adversity builds a man, I feel like it does. Getting out there and fighting through it made me stronger for this season."
Ware said the return to form lifts the strain in more ways than just the obvious physical ones.
"Having a season where you're not healthy, it becomes a mental game," Ware said. "But now you can really hone in on your technique, you can not have to worry about being hurt, having some type of tendency that you've got to deal with each week – you feel fresh and feel good."
Nobody in the NFL has a better idea of that right now than Cowboys tackle Tyron Smith. Ware sat out of the preseason opener against Miami, and he tallied just a few plays against the Raiders. That leaves Smith, who sees Ware every afternoon in practice, as the man who deals the most with Ware's conversion to defensive end.
"The battles that he and Tyron have on a daily basis are outstanding. They're really good for them. They're really good for our football team," Garrett said. "They're getting those guys better individually, but I think a lot of those guys see how two of the better players on our team work and how they practice and how they go against each other."
Plenty of that comes from pure talent – after all, his first 111 sacks as a pro came as a 3-4 linebacker. But defensive line coach Rod Marinelli said the willingness to improve technique is what separates good players from the great.
"That's what the great players in this league do, to me," Marinellia said. "The most talented players, the best players are overachievers – they overachieve, and that's why they become special. A lot of guys in this league have a lot of talent but don't become special."
So the sample size remains small. Ware will get slightly more playing time Saturday against Arizona, and a larger role in two weeks against Cincinnati before a likely off day against Houston. Then there's the little matter of sustained production over 17 weeks.
Judging by the past month, he'll have plenty of opportunities to do just that.
"He's going to have looks. He's going to have good looks coming off the ball on first down, third down – all of it. He's going to get good looks," Marinelli said. "So it's just now the day-to-day grind right now, playing the run and the pass. But obviously he's gifted, he's a worker and he's on the details. So I'm excited about that."