SAN ANTONIO -- Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware has led the league in sacks twice in his career. He has led the team or been tied for the team lead in sacks all six of his NFL seasons. He is 35 sacks from taking the team lead for a career.
But the question, raised by NFL Network analyst Warren Sapp is whether Ware can lead his teammates to the NFL's Promised Land.
"He's an absolute monster," Sapp said on the air recently, "but he's not going to lead a pack of ants to a picnic in his own back yard."
Ware said he intends to call Sapp, but, beyond that, he insists he is unfazed by the criticism.
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"I saw [Sapp's comments], but I'm getting ready for the season, so it really didn't bother me," Ware said.
Sapp said Wednesday that his point is this: Ware, as the team's best defensive player, is responsible for getting the Cowboys defense to play better.
Dallas gave up the most points (436) and yards (5,628) in team history last season despite Ware leading the league in sacks with 15.5.
"DeMarcus needs to be put in a position to where, 'Son, you've done your job and now you need to do more,'" Sapp said in a phone interview. "If you allow this to continue without saying something, it will always fall back on your lap that you ain't leading them. Until you do it, they point to the best player on the field and say, 'He ain't leading.'
"There's a process you go through to go from being a puppy to a full-grown dog. No knock on the man. But you must be a leader of men. He must step up for his ballclub and be a more vocal leader. He has to. If he doesn't, that ballclub is going to stay dormant for a while."
Ware's teammates defend Ware's leadership more than Ware does. They point out that he is a team captain.
"As good as he is, I would dare to say, he's even a better leader," Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. "There aren't too many guys that take on responsibilities like he has. He's a great teammate, hardest guy working out there, never complains, smile on his face, everything you want in a guy who represents you and your team.
"It's not a rah-rah thing. It's just about looking himself in the mirror and giving us the best chance to win. I think everybody sees that in him."
Ware's talent is not debatable. Even Sapp admits Ware isn't just good; he is great.
Ware has done something Hall of Famer Bruce Smith never did -- have a 20-sack season.
He also has done something Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas never did -- twice lead the league in sacks.
Ware has averaged 13.3 sacks per season, with his rookie season of 2005 the only season he didn't have double-digit sacks. Ware's 80 career sacks are the most in team history since sacks became an official statistic in 1982, though the Cowboys still recognize Harvey Martin's 114 sacks from 1973-83 as the team record.
"On the film I watched, he's a terrific player," new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said.
"He's pretty darn good. I don't know if you can get any better than leading the league in sacks and everything else. Hell, I don't know if we can get the guy any better."
The Cowboys will see another of their former players, Deion Sanders, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend. Ware could be in Canton one day himself.
But he said he is too busy getting ready for Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets to think about the future beyond opening day.
"Maybe, when you have a little time off, you sit back and think about what it took for those guys to get there and your goals yourself and where you want to be," Ware said.
"I don't think I'm close at all, because I'm still playing. I think you've just got to build that résumé up and be that leader on the team and, hopefully, by the end of your career, you're good enough for it."