Giants Running Back “A-Ware” of Golden Opportunity
To be a successful NFL running back, one has to have the commitment to work hard, want to win his battles, and show patience in letting his blocks develop.
In other words, if you’re Giants running back DJ Ware, be yourself.
Like most college football players who land with a NFL team, Ware, a 27-year old veteran who is entering his sixth NFL season, had hoped that by now he’d be firmly established as a regular rotation back, if not the main back in an NFL offense.
Instead, he’s seen his opportunities come at a sporadic pace for many reasons which have included injuries and, of course, having guys such as Ahmad Bradshaw and former teammates Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward ahead of him on the depth chart which resulted in him being inactive for games earlier in his career.
Good thing, though, for Ware he has the same patience off the field as he does on the field.
“It was a little hard, but at the same time, it went really fast, these five years,” he said of waiting for his chance to show that he can become a contributor to an NFL offense.
Ware surmised that one reason why he probably didn’t crack into the big time as quickly as he would have liked is because he had a somewhat unrealistic view of how to go about earning the coaches’ trust.
For example, he would work at his craft, but perhaps not as hard as he could have. He’d take extra time off during the off-season, believing that football was like riding a bicycle and that everything would come back to him after a few days.
He studied his playbook, but perhaps not with the intensity he needed to. And when he was given his opportunities, he would tease with his talents only to get caught in a situation that would set him back.
That’s when Jacobs got involved.
“He really helped me become a man by becoming accountable and responsible,” Ware recalled. “He was one of those guys who said that if he was going to be there at a certain time, you knew he was going to be there and he made sure that we did the same thing.
“He was like another Coach Coughlin in that way, but he was our age and was more of like a big brother figure.”
Ware said that Jacobs kept after him because he knew that his younger teammate could become something special if he stopped wasting time and really dedicated himself to his craft.
“He was always on my tail every day about something and that something was to help me get better at my job and my life,” Ware said. “He helped me become a better person.”
One of the many things that Jacobs helped reinforce in his young teammate was the importance of having patience, something Ware’s father, Danny, Sr., always preached as well.
“Once you start something, you have to finish it,” said Ware when asked if he ever thought about giving up and asking for a trade. “I was always determined to finish my contract and when it was over, I extended it because I’m the kind of guy that sticks to what he starts.”
What he’s hoping to start this year is his ascension up the depth chart. Since joining the Giants as a rookie in 2007 – he was signed by New York off the Jets practice squad – Ware appeared in just 29 games with no starts. He accumulated 161 yards on 35 carries and scored just one touchdown.
Last season, Ware served as the team’s third running back and saw his most extensive action as a pro, appearing in all 16 regular season games for the first time in his career, as well as the 4 post-season games, including the Super Bowl.
He finished 2011 with 46 carries for 163 yards, and two scores – both on two-point conversions. He also had 27 receptions for 170 yards, 6.3 yards per catch.
“I think I felt natural and relaxed,” he said about his 2011 production. “I went out there and tried to have fun and let my body just do what I know it can do. I knew my time would come, and when it did, I just went out there and tried to make plays and do what I could.”
This year, Ware could potentially be looking at an even bigger opportunity what with Jacobs having been released and recently signing with the 49ers.
He’s expected to compete with André Brown and Da’Rel Scott for the number two running back spot, a competition in which he could potentially have the edge considering that Bradshaw likely won’t participate in spring drills, which would likely mean increased reps in the OTAs for Ware.
For his part, Ware said the immediate challenges that lie ahead is nothing new and he’s ready for the increased work this spring.
“Last year with the lockout, Ahmad and Brandon couldn’t participate for a few days, so it was all me,” he said. “I really know what to expect. I just need to make sure that I’m doing the most work that I can and be sure I’m in the best shape.
“The plays are not going to be a problem because I know the playbook like the back of my hand. Now it’s just getting back to football speed.”
He’s also changed his off-season preparation to make sure he has the competitive edge. Whereas in the past he’d take up to two months off after the season to rest, this year Ware right back to work a mere two weeks after the Super Bowl, doing things to improve his footwork, his agility, and his stamina. This way, he said, come April 16 when the Giants begin their off-season strength and conditioning program, he’s ahead of where he has traditionally been in the past.
And when he does return to the field, Ware said he hopes to open a few more eyes among the coaching staff about what he has to offer.
“There are a few things in my repertoire that I haven’t really unleashed yet just because of the fact that I wasn’t loose or because I got thrown into a random situation,” he said. “I haven’t shown that I can break 3 or 4 tackles and take one 40 or 50 yards to the house,” he said, listing the skills he has yet to show Giants fans. “I haven’t shown that I can be that goal line back. I haven’t shown that I can take a pass and turn it into 70 or 80 yards and a score.”
While Ware realizes that the number two running back will have to share snaps with Bradshaw, he said the key would be to put aside any pride and focus on making the most out of every snap he’s given.
“It’s just something you have to dig down deep and just know that if you get out there and get rolling, maybe they’ll leave you out there for a while,” he said of the Giants’ running game structure in which Bradshaw usually plays for two series before being spotted by his backup.
“I’ve been the kind of guy who sticks to what he starts,” he said. “Even though it’s hard and it looks crazy, I believe that I’ll come out on top at the end of the day if I stick with it and put my all into it.”