Injuries Can't Slow Down Sack-Artist Ware

to be a mismatch. We've got a Pro Bowl-caliber back streaking down the field against an outside linebacker, basically a defensive end. But when it comes to pure athleticism, Ware has Gore beat, and most running backs, too.

Ware stayed with him the entire play and knocked the ball out at the last second.

Covers the pass? Check.

And against the run? That might even be the best part of his game.

His teammates think so.

"I think he's just as good or better against the run than he is as a pass rusher," veteran linebacker Zach Thomas said. "And he's leading the league in sacks. That just tells you. Usually you don't have a guy that can play both the run and the pass. Usually if they're a great pass rusher teams try to run right at them because they're kind of light. But with DeMarcus it's not that way."

No teammate has seen more of him or knows him better than defensive end Marcus Spears, who was selected nine spots later in the first round of the 2005 draft. Spears and Ware have been roommates on the road, not to mention good friends off the field during their still-young pro careers.

Like Thomas, Spears says that what makes Ware so special is his versatility.

Any way you like it, he can beat you.

"I think he's progressed every year," Spears said of Ware. "He has become a lot stronger of a football player. He is dismantling people on the field. You have a lot of outside linebackers in this league with a lot of sacks right now. They either can run fast or they have some pass-rush moves. But D-Ware plays the run like a down lineman.

"He also can get to the quarterback with a power rush or he can run past them. The facets of his game are what make him exceptional."

The question now is, just who is noticing?

Opponents know, especially the left tackles and the quarterbacks. Coaches probably see it, too. In fact, if you remember back in the Tampa Bay game on Oct. 26, that was the game Ware saw his streak of 10 straight games with a sack come to an end. But afterwards, it was Bucs coach Jon Gruden who called Ware arguably the best football player in the NFL.

He might not have recorded a sack, but he was all over Jeff Garcia that day as the Cowboys held Tampa Bay to just three field goals.

And by the end of the season, you wonder if Ware has a chance to get some of the same recognition.

Defensive Player of the Year . . . why not? The guys in Pittsburgh might have something to say about that. And what happens in this week's game could go a long way in deciding such a race.

But while awards are fun to speculate and argue about, we don't need them to tell us how great players like DeMarcus Ware are.

In fact, after seeing him on the ground last Thursday, just having him on the field is good enough . . . not to mention, crucial.

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