D.J. Ware is a skilled, well-compensated professional athlete, but like millions of Americans, he's motivated by a fear of losing his job.
This is Ware's sixth season with the Giants. In all that time he has just 81 regular season rushing attempts. Ware has an entrenched starter ahead of him in Ahmad Bradshaw. The Giants selected a running back, David Wilson, with their first-round draft choice this year. Second-year pro Da'Rel Scott is competing for playing time.
Against this backdrop, Ware believes it's now or never for him to make a substantial impact.
"I just feel like my time is running out," Ware said during a training camp break at the University at Albany. "I look at it and take it every day as it's my last and go out there and try to get the best look as possible.
"I have to prove myself every time I'm on the field. We drafted a running back with our first round pick. They got him for a reason. I have to make every play that I get in there count. I've just got that attitude that I don't want to be stopped, no matter what. If I can continue to play like that, good things will happen. I've just got to take one day at a time."
He had a pretty good night in the Giants' preseason-opening loss in Jacksonville on Friday. Ware was second on the team with 30 rushing yards, including a second-effort two-yard touchdown run. Coach Tom Coughlin praised him yesterday, saying Ware's running was "hard" and "powerful."
But Coughlin also lauded Wilson, who led the Giants with 43 rushing yards, including a 26-yarder, and had two impressive kickoff returns.
Ware sees two potential paths to more playing time. The first is as the team's third-down back, a role he sometimes played last season, when he had career-high totals of 46 rushing attempts (for 163 yards) and 27 receptions. He also scored twice on two-point conversions.
"Danny's good," quarterback Eli Manning said. "He's been our third down guy last year for a bit so he has done a good job in protection. We feel he's our best route runner out of the backfield and catches the ball well. Hopefully, that's a role where you can get catches to him on third and short or third and four or five, or you can get the ball out of the backfield, have him run a route and get first downs for you. I think that's something that he's worked hard on and understands our concepts and how to get open versus different techniques."
Ware also believes he can replace the departed Brandon Jacobs as a big back in short-yardage and goal line situations. He gained five pounds and now weighs a solid 230.
"I think if they need me in that area of the game, I can do it," Ware said. "That was part of my running skill when I came here. I was known more as a power runner. So now I just have to adjust it to being in on third down, running routes and all that. My original mindset was a power runner, so I believe I can go back to it and help them out in any area they need me to."
Ware's entire career has been an uphill climb. He was not drafted out of the University of Georgia. Ware signed as a free agent with the Tennessee Titans but was waived a month before training camp began. He was signed by the Jets, waived again and placed on their practice squad, which is where he was when the Giants signed him on Dec. 4, 2007.
The 2011 season was the first time he played in all 16 games. It was also the first season in which he had more than 20 carries or more than seven catches. Now 27, with Bradshaw in front of him and Wilson and Scott coming up behind, Ware hears his career clock ticking.
"I think we are all out there competing for that number two spot," Ware said. "But I think I have a hand up on them. I've got experience. I've been here for a while. I know the system. I know the protections. I know the running game. I know the checks. I know everything. I think that gives me a leg up on the guys, and I go out there and work hard. I'm not trying to give up the number two spot easily. I was here first and I want first dibs."