He asks offensive linemen what they think, sometimes making adjustments based on their advice. He watches film of contemporaries and old-timers, sometimes calling them for tips. He's pretty much willing to give anything a shot. After leading the NFL with 20 sacks last season, Ware is convinced he needs to mix things up just to stay ahead of the competition.
"Every year, the offenses are gunning for you and they're changing, so you've got to be able to change, too, to stay on top," Ware said.
This must be a coach's dream, right? Here's a superstar player in his prime trying to put more things in his "toolbox," as Ware calls it.
Well, coach Wade Phillips wishes Ware would cut it out. His point: Don't mess with a good thing.
"I've told DeMarcus if he does too much (tinkering) he hurts himself," Phillips said. "The moves he has now, that we've identified, we tell him, 'These are the ones we want you to use because these are the ones that are best for you."'
Phillips formed his less-is-more philosophy over 32 years in the NFL, many spent as a defensive coach working with Hall of Fame pass rushers like Reggie White, Bruce Smith and Elvin Bethea.
"They didn't have many moves," Phillips said. "They had a great move that nobody could stop or, if they could stop it, they had a counter off it."
Phillips compares an effective pass rusher's repertoire to that of a baseball pitcher. A guy with a blazing fastball doesn't need many more pitches, probably just a change-up, which comes in looking the same but slower, and a breaking ball, which moves a lot.
Ware's arsenal is pretty similar. His best moves are a speed rush (the fastball), a start-and-stop move that Phillips calls the "stutter" and Ware calls his "shake and bake" (the change-up) and a crossover similar to what basketball players use (the breaking ball).
Ware's speed is unique for someone 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds. He gets into backfields so fast that he's been wrongly flagged for offsides three times in the last two years, according to Phillips.
Because blockers know they have move quickly to get in his way, Ware uses that against them with the stutter. When he slows down, they plant their feet - then, he takes off around them.
"Franco Harris, he had that," said Phillips, who saw Harris in his prime at least twice a year while coaching the division-rival Houston Oilers in the 1970s. "DeMarcus has that kind of explosion that not many have."
As he's refined his moves, he's upped his sack totals. Ware has gone from eight as a rookie to 11 1/2, then to 14 and another jump to 20. His 53 1/2 sacks since 2005 are the most by anyone in the NFL.
His 20-sack season puts him in exclusive company, too. Only six others have had that many since sacks became an official stat in 1982. White is the only one to follow it with at least 14 sacks the next year; he had 18 in 1988.
That challenge motivates Ware. It's part of the reason he added five pounds of muscle over the offseason and why he's constantly searching for more moves.
"I've always said, how consistent can you be?" Ware said. "I always think about Michael Jordan. Every game, he's the guy. You can slow him down, but you can't stop him. That's what I'm trying to do."
Which brings us back to the friendly debate with Phillips: To experiment or not to experiment. Phillips isn't surprised Ware wants to branch out. He's heard it from the other great pass rushers.
"They get bored with beating everybody," Phillips said. "But what's wrong with throwing the fastball by them if they can't hit that?"
Ware has the ultimate comeback: The stutter comes from his practice-field laboratory.
He saw New York's Osi Umenyiora and Philadelphia's Trent Cole use it, so he tried it one day against Dallas left tackle Flozell Adams.
"Ever since, I've been incorporating that in everything I do," Ware said.
Considering how well that worked out, it's no wonder Ware is still sneaking things in during practice and letting Phillips figure it out later.
"I'll just let him see it on film," Ware said, laughing. "Then he'll say, 'I don't like that move, I don't think it's going to work, DeMarcus.' So if I do a move, I've got to make sure it's a sack."
Ware, coach differ over new moves
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