On one hand – and with four fingers left to use – you can count the number of games Demario Davis has missed in the first 11 years of his NFL career.
If it wasn't for vet rest days, the same probably could be said for training camp practices. So it was pretty noticeable when the New Orleans Saints' four-time All-Pro linebacker was forced to miss roughly two-and-a-half weeks of work this preseason with a calf injury.
"I haven't missed this much practice, or this much training camp, before," he said Thursday, following his third straight full-participation, full-speed practice. ""Certainly, you've got to think – and I don't know, for whatever reason – but you've got to think in Year 12, that plane may need a little more runway before it's ready to hit the sky.
"And I'm grateful to have a staff that took something that wasn't as serious, but gave me extra time to make sure that everything was functioning properly. Now, I told all the guys, I put in all my vet days. I took all my vacation days, I got them out of the way. It's time to work now, so I'm excited."
Davis said all Saints fans should be excited for the upcoming season. If his play continues in the same stratosphere, he'll be one of the main reasons for the optimism.
He finished last season with a career-high 6.5 sacks, six passed defensed, an interception, 10 tackles for loss, eight quarterback hits and 109 tackles for a Saints defense that finished ninth in scoring (20.3 points per game allowed), fifth in total defense (314.8 yards) and second in pass defense (184.4 yards).
Getting back in practice was a step in that direction, and his return immediately registered. Davis supplies juice, whether in the middle of a rep or while observing.
"I think he needs to be out here practicing, which is what he's doing," Coach Dennis Allen said. "I don't expect to see him in a game. I think he'll be ready to go when the season opens up."
"Certainly, it's good to be back out there with the guys," said Davis, who only has missed one of a possible 178 games, due to Covid protocol. In five seasons since joining the Saints as an unrestricted free agent, he has 22.5 sacks, two interceptions, 34 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 554 tackles and 55 tackles for loss.
"When you've spent 12 years in this game, you know it's a long season and so you want to make sure your body is fully prepared to take on that load and be your strongest at the finish of the season," he said. "Without taking preseason reps sometimes that can feel a little bit different, but I feel like as a pro, you've got to know how to get yourself to optimal level, optimal performance.
"And I think just with our practices, going against our offense – the tempo that they play at, the amount of weapons that they've got over there, the way that the coaches are calling plays – it puts you in every situation that you're going to be in in a game. So I think in practice I'll be able to get enough reps that I need to be ready Week 1."
Full coverage of the New Orleans Saints workouts during 2023 Training Camp presented by Rouses Markets on Thursday, August 24.
BITS AND PIECES: Rookie running back Kendre Miller left practice after sustaining a laceration on his face, but returned. Receiver Rashid Shaheed returned in a limited capacity; he participated in individual drills and will be with the team when it practices in the Caesars Superdome on Friday morning.
"I expect him to be out there a little bit tomorrow in terms of the Dome, getting used to the lights and everything," Allen said. "I don't know that we'll see him in any real live action."
LATTIMORE UPDATE: Cornerback Marshon Lattimore continues to recover from a knee injury he sustained last Friday during the joint practice with the Chargers.
"There's nothing structurally wrong with his knee," Allen said. "It's really more or less us getting him on a little medication to help hopefully calm this thing down. It's not a significant injury, but it's one that you've got to battle through a little bit."
ROUNDING INTO FORM: Receiver Michael Thomas had another impressive day of work as he continues to trend in the right direction after missing most of the last three seasons.
"I thought overall Mike looked good, and I think Mike has looked better and better every time he's come out there," Allen said. "I think he's probably getting more comfortable with where he's at. I think we kind of knew that at some point we'd start seeing what we expect out of him, and I think we're seeing that more and more every day that he's out here."