IRVING, Texas – Most players don't look back at a season with 11.5 sacks and five forced fumbles and call it the most difficult time of their professional career.
But that's how DeMarcus Ware referred to his 2012 season, in which he dealt with more injuries than he could have possibly imagined. The first hit him early in the year, while the rest limited him later on.
"Training camp, I tore my hamstring, so I was dealing with that the whole season," Ware said. "I fractured my right wrist, wore a cast on that. It's fine now. I had an elbow harness on and the last three games I tore my labrum. I had an elbow and a shoulder harness on. I didn't have that arm."
Ware's 11.5 sacks were his fewest since 2009, when he totaled 11. He's finished each of his last seven seasons with double-digit sack totals, so even through all the injuries, he was bound to reach the quarterback better than most outside linebackers or defensive ends throughout the league.
He compiled four of his forced fumbles and nine of his sacks within the first eight games of the season. Most of his sacks occurred before a hyperextended elbow and a torn labrum in his shoulder rendered his entire right arm practically useless.
"I still had my feet, being able to run," Ware said. "It was hard. But the thing is, it's what you're out there playing for. There was a passion of playing with your teammates and being part of the Dallas Cowboys organization."
Ware still found a way after all the injuries to play in all 16 games. He's suited up for every game of his professional career since getting drafted in 2005, and he doesn't plan on missing any time now that the 2013 season is getting underway.
In his first season as an NFL defensive end, Ware's easing into Organized Team Activities after undergoing surgery on his labrum after the season. He elected not to get surgery on his elbow.
"I actually feel pretty good," he said. "I'm probably about 85 percent. I'll be ready for the season. It's a process, a process of healing and rehabbing and getting ready."
The former linebacker said he'd never dealt with injuries that completely stopped him from doing what he knew he could do. He could go out and pass rush, but his body wouldn't allow him to make the same moves he was accustomed to making throughout his career.
"That's sort of discouraging," Ware said. "But getting out there and still playing and fighting through it, I think that was the main thing."
Just like Jason Witten, who somehow suited up to start the season after lacerating his spleen in the preseason, Ware was a veteran who wasn't going to miss time.
Ware finished with just 2.5 sacks the second half of the year, but teams still had to account for No. 94 on the outside. That allowed players such as Anthony Spencer, who compiled eight of his 11 sacks the final half of the year, to thrive.
"Sometimes your presence out there is a lot more than what you think," Ware said. "If you're hurt, you still can get the double teams that can really free a lot of other guys up. You might not be as productive, but it's going to transition. There're 11 guys out there. The other 10 need to make plays while you're out there still doing what you can do."
The Cowboys expect Ware to come back and play the same way he had in the past at the start of this season, and he's excited about how he fits in with the schemes of new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.
"It's very simple, but it's a lot of technique work that goes into it, which Marinelli and Kiffin are teaching," Ware said. "I think it's going to be really great for us. I see the corners out there locking guys up and playing really well, and Sean Lee, he's being that vocal mike 'backer for us. I think this transition is going to be really good for us."