DENVER -- DeMarcus Ware smiles like he knows something you don’t, his own little secret. He’s earned that smile, the kind that creeps slowly across his face as he tells you he’s feeling fine, he’s ready, he’s excited. His answers are always the right ones, and on Thursday night, he seemed right.
The calf injury that nagged Ware the week before certainly seemed resolved, as did the elbow, quadriceps and back issues that hobbled him in 2013. The old man looked young again, and quick, and a hell of a lot scarier than that man with the slow smile.
In limited playing time in the Broncos’ 21-16 preseason win over Seattle, Ware pressured Russell Wilson, resulting in an incomplete pass, on one play and then sacked him for a loss of a yard on the next. It was the Seahawks’ first drive of the game, and in the span of a minute, the new Broncos defensive end delivered more thump than his team’s entire defense combined in the Super Bowl.
“I told him, that’s probably the worst-looking sack of his career, just because he didn’t have to do much to get the sack,” defensive tackle Terrance Knighton joked. “We’ll take it. That’s why he’s here. He makes his money on third down.”
Ware wasn’t about to disagree with his new teammate, either. “You usually try to knock the quarterback out when he’s not seeing you,” he said, “but I did a spin move, turned around, and he was right there in my lap. It was a little bit easier.”
The game was a blur of yellow, of holding and neutral zone infractions, illegal formations and taunting – one of those melees where you’d pay to hear what expletives blossomed in each and every scrum. It was going to be angry, and it ended up messy, and who knows what to glean from a preseason game, anyway?
Peyton Manning was as monotonously accurate as ever. Richard Sherman was his usual wound-up knot of muscle just ready to uncoil. Russell Wilson did Russell Wilson things. To judge a rookie would be too soon, a backup too harsh. And then there was Ware.
He’s one of the few players who warrants a judgment, because nagging injuries aren’t any better hidden in August than November, and age doesn’t pause in the preseason. Ware is healthy, or he looks healthy, and if he can stay that way, Denver’s defense might just have what it takes to keep pace with its toughest opponents.
When it comes to the Broncos’ offseason additions, most of the attention has focused on safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Aqib Talib, and that’s to be expected. Denver’s secondary was its most lacking unit a year ago, and Ward and Talib add a bite that the defense lacked. They’re loud off the field, too. Ware, meanwhile, just smiles and speaks in that quiet tone of voice that makes you think he wouldn’t hurt a fly. He tweets about rescuing bunnies. And then he trots out for his first game in a Broncos uniform and pancakes Wilson, seven years his junior.
“You’ve been playing so long against quarterbacks that run,” Ware said. “You’ve got Michael Vick and (Robert Griffin), and Nick Foles can run. The majority of the quarterbacks in the NFC, they can run. You get used to it, and you figure out how to cage rush them. … I like it.”
So yes, the sample size was small, but players with $30 million contracts aren’t getting any more than a glance in games like Thursday’s. Ware’s is a talent that relies on bursts and streaks, and the one time he pushed Seahawk to turf said a lot more about what the Broncos are capable of than did Brock Osweiler’s six completions. Will an improved defense be enough to wrangle a win out of Seattle at home in September? No clue. But Ware looks like the player the Broncos hoped they were paying last March.
He looks like that player, and late Thursday night, he smiled like that player, with the you-know-what-eating grin of a man who feels like his old self. This smile didn’t creep, not as Ware walked into a crowd of defensive linemen waiting to walk him off the field. It was smeared across his face, because his new city is in on the secret. DeMarcus Ware is healthy, at least for now, which makes that smile the stuff of quarterbacks’ nightmares.