Ware, sched­uled for back surgery, has been a force

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Cameron Wolfe

Von Miller doesn’t want to fathom life with­out DeMar­cus Ware. The Bron­cos’ all-pro out­side line­backer be­lieves he owes the past three years of his ca­reer to Ware, a 12-year vet­eran who ar­rived in Miller’s life when he was at his low­est point.

“He saved me. He was life-chang­ing,” Miller said. “It’s like a su­per­hero moved in with you stay­ing at your house ev­ery day. You get to see ex­actly how he lives his life, you get to see the be­hind-the-scenes work, you get to see how raw and real he is. He had a huge im­pact on my life and my ca­reer.”

Ware, 34, will have surgery Fri­day to re­pair a rup­tured disc in his back, leav­ing his NFL fu­ture uncer­tain. The Bron­cos put him on sea­son-end­ing in­jured re­serve Wed­nes­day.

Thurs­day on Twit­ter, Ware al­luded to re­turn­ing for an­other sea­son. But his in­juries are mount­ing, and he will be a free agent dur­ing the off­sea­son.

Den­ver play­ers want to avoid the feel­ing of a eu­logy when talk­ing about Ware, but they un­der­stand that his ca­reer may be over.

“We all know the re­al­ity of the busi­ness. The busi­ness says

you’re ex­pen­sive, you’re hurt and you’re older, they’re less likely to keep you around. A lot of peo­ple un­der­stand what might hap­pen, but we’ll see,” said in­side line­backer Bran­don Mar­shall, who plans to have Ware au­to­graph a jersey for him this week. “If he doesn’t re­turn, I’m go­ing to miss him. He epit­o­mizes what a leader, a great man of faith, a hard worker and a great foot­ball player is. He’s once in a gen­er­a­tion.”

Ware, who wasn’t avail­able to speak for this story while deal­ing with med­i­cal mat­ters away from Bron­cos head­quar­ters, missed all of the team’s off­sea­son work­outs, train­ing camp and pre­sea­son be­cause of his back is­sues and later an in­fec­tion. He has had back is­sues dat­ing to when he played for the Dal­las Cow­boys, and he missed five games this sea­son be­cause of a frac­tured fore­arm.

Be­cause of his in­juries, it’s easy to for­get how dom­i­nant Ware was through­out his ca­reer. He con­trib­uted 3.5 sacks in three play­off games to Den­ver’s Su­per Bowl ti­tle run last sea­son, in­clud­ing two sacks against the Carolina Pan­thers in the Su­per Bowl. He ranks eighth in NFL his­tory with 138.5 sacks in his ca­reer.

“He’s a Hall of Fame player just like Rickey Jack­son, Bruce Smith and Reg­gie White,” said Wade Phillips, the Bron­cos’ de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor. “He’s 65 sacks ahead of Von Miller right now; that’s pretty scary. I wish I had his body. So does my wife.”

Coach Gary Ku­biak said Ware “takes great care of him­self. He’s in amaz­ing shape for his age. He has good foot­ball left in him and his attitude is re­ally good. … Ob­vi­ously this or­ga­ni­za­tion loves DeMar­cus and what he’s done.”

If Ware doesn’t re­turn, the Bron­cos would lose an­other leader, like Pey­ton Man­ning, who’s dif­fi­cult to re­place. Ware is ad­mired be­cause of his film study, push­ing young play­ers to per­fec­tion and be­ing a vo­cal leader on and off the field. Sev­eral play­ers said Ware gives them ad­vice on ev­ery­thing from fi­nan­cial mat­ters to fam­ily dis­putes and per­sonal hard­ships.

Ware made more than $6.5 mil­lion this sea­son af­ter a con­tract re­struc­ture. He prob­a­bly would need to take a pay cut to re­turn to the Bron­cos as a backup. He has played 29 per­cent of the team’s de­fen­sive snaps this sea­son, rank­ing fourth at out­side line­backer be­hind Miller, Shane Ray and Shaquil Bar­rett. He posted ca­reer lows in sacks (four) and games played (10).

The Bron­cos have been pre­par­ing for life with­out Ware by groom­ing Ray and Bar­rett. Miller (13.5) and Ray (seven) are tied for the NFL lead as a pass-rush­ing duo with a to­tal of 20.5 sacks this sea­son.

“When­ever D-Ware de­cides his time is done, I’m ready,” Ray said last week.

The Bron­cos won’t be in the play­offs for the first time since 2010 so it’s clear to them how much can change in one sea­son. There’s no big­ger ex­am­ple than Ware, who Miller called a “Fer­rari with brake is­sues.” Ware’s team­mates are hope­ful that he can re­turn in 2017, but they know it’s un­likely.

“The beauty of the NFL is know­ing this isn’t go­ing to last for­ever,” Miller said. “There’s only a small pe­riod of time where you can show what you got and prove your­self. You get one year, then peo­ple start los­ing pa­tience with you. You have to be great right now. You have to take ad­van­tage of the mo­ment right now. The mo­ment that I had with DeMar­cus was ma­jor.”

DeMar­cus Ware con­trib­uted 3.5 sacks in three play­off games to Den­ver’s ti­tle run last sea­son. He ranks eighth in NFL his­tory with 138.5 sacks. John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

DeMar­cus Ware, bot­tom, gets some help from Jared Crick in bring­ing San Diego QB Philip Rivers to the ground in Oc­to­ber. Joe Amon, The Den­ver Post

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