Analysis

Broncos vet DeMarcus Ware not slowing down in 12th season

Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips believes wholeheartedly DeMarcus Ware will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"There's no doubt about that," Phillips said. "I've had quite a few. He's a dominant player. Anytime you're a dominant player in your era and everybody acknowledges it, I think everybody sees that."

Phillips has witnessed first-hand Hall of Fame pass rushers. He coached Hall of Fame defensive ends Elvin Bethea, Bruce Smith and Reggie White. He's had a hand in developing J.J. Watt into arguably the best defensive player on the planet. Phillips also knows Ware well, as this is his second stint with the pass rusher. The first was in Dallas, where Ware led the league in sacks twice (20 in 2008 and 15.5 in 2010) with Phillips as his head coach.

Ware currently sits 11th all-time in career sacks with 134.5. The mindset this season is to keep Ware, who is 34 and has struggled of late with back issues, fresh by limiting his snaps. The plan is to use Ware predominantly in the pass rush on third down this season. But if Ware can get 7.5 sacks this year, just as he did while missing five games last year, he will move into fifth place all-time, just ahead of Hall of Famer Michael Strahan.

"I'm really not thinking about it," Ware said when asked about the Hall of Fame. "But I know that it's up in the future, and I'll think about it then."

Ware, who has collected in a box newspaper clippings or stories about him throughout his career, said he's focused on the present. Ware didn't play in the preseason after starting training camp on the PUP list because of the back issue that kept him out the entire offseason.

If there is any doubt Ware has lost a step and might not be able to get those 7.5 sacks, a recent race after practice -- something that didn't please the coaching staff and prompted a team meeting -- might make you feel differently.

While the team was lifting weights during the week leading up to its third preseason game, talk began about the speed of second-year outside linebacker Shane Ray. The former first-round pick told Ware he could run a 4.4-second 40-yard dash.

"Dude, you did not run a 4.4. I can beat you," Ware remembers saying that day in the Broncos' weight room.

And just like that, the race was on. The team poured out the doors and onto the practice field. Two lines of teammates were formed. Running back C.J. Anderson was put in charge of distracting the media from shooting or watching the race by conducting an interview on another field. Ware ripped off his shirt, perhaps for some pre-race intimidation.

A crafty veteran, Ware knew he probably couldn't beat Ray in a 40, but knew he could stay with him in a shorter race because of how quick he is within his first 10 yards. The race was determined by a photo finish, recorded by wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Several players screamed Ware won; others proclaimed victory for Ray.

The truth according to Ware?

"Shane actually cheated," Ware said. "Right at the end, he bumped me with his right arm. If you watch the video, the right arm -- I didn't lean over like he was saying. I think it was a tie. I know we're not going to race again. It was close."

Apparently the old man still has it. Enough to even surprise a teammate who sees him every day and who will see much more playing time with Ware's limited roll this season.

Ware said Ray yelled to him afterward, "D-Ware, I didn't know you were still that fast."

Referencing his health and his jersey number, Ware responded, "Yeah, and I'm at 94 percent, too."

Follow James Palmer on Twitter @JamesPalmerTV.

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