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Saints program cover story: Linebacker Demario Davis impacts Saints on and off field

Veteran is a leader in the locker room and the community

When it comes to layers, Shrek has nothing on New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis.

He's the wearer of the "Man of God" headband – not anymore during games; the NFL saw to that – which has allowed him to turn a fine (the NFL overturned his) into a find (monies raised from headband sales are donated to a Jackson, Miss., hospital where his mother worked to support the family). During the team's Week Nine bye, Davis visited St. Louis King of France School in Metairie and treated them to a Coca-Cola and pizza party for their support of his headband initiative.

The vocal and communicative Davis has also become a stirrer of inspiration during pregame huddles, a duty he took over for Drew Brees when the quarterback initially was sidelined after thumb surgery. Since Brees' return, Davis has continued to take the pulpit, combining with Breesfor the pre-game sermon that motivates their teammates.

"That's kind of sacred ground," said Davis, referring to the pregame pep talk that the signal-caller has initiated for the Saints now for over a decade. "But I felt like I could do it too," the two-time team captain said, referring to the responsibilities that go with it.

Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen is happy to have the addition of Davis to an emerging defense the past two seasons. While he is pleased with his on-field production and off-field leadership, he says Davis' work ethic leads to the former two achievements both individually and for the unit as a group.

"I think certainly, that's the thing you don't ever really know when you bring him in from outside your building," said Allen, referring to Davis' strong work ethic. "What you don't really know is what that guy's made of in terms of internally. You can watch the tape and see the skillset, but what you can't see is what's inside, what's in his heart, what's in his mind and I think that's been one of the things that we've been very pleased with, is how hard this guy works, how important it is to him, what a great leader he is. It's easy to be a rah-rah speech guy. But if you don't have the work ethic to back it up, nobody really listens to it. But when you have a guy who's one of your better players that's one of your better workers, now he has a voice and certainly he's a good voice for us."

Lately, he's the dispenser of energy after big plays.

"The celebration, the Kamehameha, is from Dragon Ball Z, one of my favorite cartoons," said Davis, who unveiled the celebration a few games ago. "And so it's just, Goku, the main character, he draws energy from the universe and he sends that to his opponent.

"I can't really simulate drawing the energy in the Kamehameha, so that's why you see me drawing it from the stands and from the fans, or from my teammates, all the energy I need to ignite into the other team."

And, as always, he's the distributor of punishment defensively for the Saints on defense.

When Coach Sean Payton says that Davis doesn't allow "leaky yardage" when the linebacker makes a tackle, the thought of explaining it brings a smile to Davis' face.

"I guess what coach is referring to about not allowing a guy to get the leaky yardage, you always want to stop a guy in his track," Davis said. "What our coaches always emphasize is, make sure the guy's head isn't still turned toward the end zone when you hit him. And so I'm always trying to make sure that the guy is turned toward the sideline or turned the other direction whenever I hit him."

It happens, and it happens often for Davis. The Saints' leading tackler this season (credited with 69 entering today's game against the Carolina Panthers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome) has been the defense's steady backbone during a 7-2 campaign that has put New Orleans in first place in the NFC South and in the top five in both the overall defense and run defense rankings.

"There are several things I wanted to do for my team as a linebacker," said Davis. "You want to be able to stop the run, you want to be able to rush the passer when asked, especially when the offensive linemen are tied up or not paying attention to you. I think another important part is for me to be able to drop back in coverage."

"Certainly he's a guy that we feel has a lot of athleticism," said Allen, reiterating the skills of a complete linebacker such as Davis. "He's a guy that at times, he's out in space on skill players. He's on backs, sometimes wideouts and I think he does a really good job of that. A lot of times you have really good athletic players, but they don't have the instincts or intelligence to do the things we're asking Demario to do. He's really the complete package, because he's very physical in the run game, yet he can get out in space and match up against skill players and we feel very comfortable in doing that with him."

Originally a third-round draft pick for the New York Jets in 2012, Davis spent his first six seasons with New York (2012-15, 2017) and Cleveland (2016). He took advantage of the unrestricted free agency landscape in 2018 and the Central Mississippi native saw a team on the rise close to his home base and signed a three-year contract with New Orleans.

Besides taking advantage of the opportunity to play closer to home and to play with an NFC contender, the presence of Brees, the man he now shares the pregame dais with, also played a significant role in the decision.

"We've got three quarterbacks that are just head and shoulders above the rest – Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees," Davis said. "So if you have an opportunity to play with one of them you can't pass it up."

The decision paid off, as Davis was voted a team co-captain, started all 16 regular season games, led the Saints with 110 tackles and added five sacks, four passes defensed, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery as New Orleans went 13-3 and finished second in the league in run defense. In his career postseason debut, Davis led the team with 22 tackles and also added an interception and pass defensed in the NFC Championship game, shining in the playoff spotlight.

"I think the first thing is this guy is a run and hit linebacker," said Allen. "He's good at being able to key and diagnose. But the thing that makes him special is that all of us at some point on the field, we get into a troublesome situation and the really great players are able to get themselves out of trouble and make plays. And that's one of the things that he can really do is when he does find himself in a little bit of a catch up mode, he's got that athleticism to get himself back in position to make a play.

"He plays extremely hard, it's extremely important to him. He studies, he's well-versed in what we're doing in the game plan. He's been a great leader for us. He's the guy that has the green dot (communication device) on gamedays and does a really good job of communicating for us."

The part that Allen enthusiastically describes as he represents the coordinator on the field is the part of Davis that fans see most, but the enforcer never forgets his roots away from the gridiron.

"I always try to identify myself with who I am as a person first, before I measure the athlete," Davis said. "I'm a child of God first, I'm a husband second, I'm a father third, and I'm going to always try to be a positive influence in society.

"And professionally, the thing I do is football, which I love and when I'm there, I'm going to try to play my role as best I can."

Head Coach Sean Payton has welcomed the entire Davis package, what he has provided in on-field production and off-field leadership, as well as the role model he has proven to be in his community.

"I think it's outstanding," Payton said. "When you sign someone in free agency, you do your homework, you spend a lot of time on the film, but also researching the college grade, makeup and all those things. I would say, that all being said, he's exceeded what we believed then to what we're seeing now. I think he's a great leader for our team, is a real good teammate and has been a key addition for us both on and off the field."

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