Demario Davis knows the number that some people are looking at, the "32" that's listed underneath the word "age."
He also knows this: As the numbers underneath "age" have increased, so has his production as a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints. The acclaim has been late on arrival for Davis, who still hasn't been named to an NFC Pro Bowl team despite the fact that he was a first-team All-Pro in 2019, but the impact continues to be on time for one of the best free agent signings in franchise history.
"I think it's about not buying into so much of what other people say, and finding your own lane," said Davis, who's entering his 10th season and hasn't missed a game as a Saint. "I just think that God has gifted me a unique way that though people will say at 32, they should be getting worse or they're at their peak or whatever, I just feel like I haven't tapped into the best version of myself yet. Though I may be approaching it, I see the sky as the limit.
"There are things inside the game that I'm able to see now. It's movements and different things on the field that I wasn't doing before that I can add that's going to make me a better player. I think physically and mentally when you're still on the rise, I think people begin to peak out when physically their body isn't able to perform. When I'm doing tests, I'm always trying to get faster, I'm trying to get stronger, I'm trying to be more explosive.
"I think when you can find those little cutting edges, and then mentally you can sharpen yourself in a way to do things that you weren't able to do before, that's what allows me to continue to get better."
Better, as in 110 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 11 quarterback hits, five sacks, four passes defensed, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in 2018; 111 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, nine quarterback hits, a career-high 12 passes defensed, four sacks and an interception in '19; and 119 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 12 quarterback hits, four sacks and five passes defensed last year.
"Going into my 10th season, you kind of know what to expect in the game, you understand the system," he said. "I think, for me, it's always about taking my game to the next level. And so, you spend an entire offseason kind of cultivating your craft and things you want to implement in your game, things want to sharpen in your game, things you might want to take out.
"As you're doing that, it's kind of like rebuilding a car every year. And so when you get to training camp now – because you don't really have OTAs – that's the first time you really get a chance to test the car out and try all those things that you've been doing. So I feel well pleased about where I'm at in my profession and the things I want to do going into this season.
"And also, it's important for us defensively to play at a high level. So just being able to gauge where we are as a defense, where we've got to get to. After that first preseason game, that race has begun – the film is out there and you've just got to kind of keep tightening it up."
Defensively, as good as the Saints were last year – first in interceptions, fourth in yards allowed per game, fifth in points allowed per game, eighth in sacks – there may be a need for them to be as good, or better. The offense will be breaking in a new starting quarterback and it'll begin the season without receiver Michael Thomas, who had ankle surgery in June.
And the defense will begin the season without standout tackle David Onyemata, who'll miss the first six games due to league suspension.
But Davis said there's a good idea inside the building of exactly what New Orleans has.
"We don't have any concerns about our offense," he said. "We know how well they're coached over there, we know the level and the great amount of players that are over there. So we don't have any worries about them. Special teams, we've always performed at a high level as well.
"So for us (on defense), it's about us doing our part. It's not like we have to take on this huge burden or anything like that. Our standard is our standard, so whether we have the most explosive offense over there or the least explosive, our job is to be the top defense amongst our peers. We have that ability, and that's the goal that we're chasing.
"But at the same time, I think the biggest thing people talk about is with Drew (Brees) being gone, what's going to happen? But we've had to go extended periods without Drew the past two years (5-0 and 3-1 when Brees was sidelined with injuries in '19 and '20). We had multiple quarterbacks go in the game and we were able to be successful with multiple quarterbacks.
"I think that's our mind-set in the building. We know what we're up against this year as a team, we know what we're up against as a defense and we're ready to meet those challenges on all fronts."