HIS TEAMMATES CALL HIM "T.D.," which is ironic because Thomas Davis has never scored a TD in his four-year NFL career.
Davis finally has points to his name, though, after Carolina's 20-17 victory against Washington on Sunday. Davis was credited with Carolina's first safety since 2006 against the Redskins. So in the Panthers' scoring column he now boasts exactly two points (the same number scored by Steve Smith).
For my money, Davis has made a greater impact this season for Carolina than anyone on the squad. On a team where it has too often seemed that the key players are either too old or too young, the 26-year-old Davis stands smack in the middle of his prime.
Davis has played well all season - a fact somewhat lost with Carolina's 1-3 start. He had an astonishing 18 tackles in the season opener against Philadelphia, which is about two games worth for most good linebackers. And he has followed that up with three more good games. If you had to pick a Panther MVP of the quarter-season, it would be No. 58.
"T.D. has done well," Panthers defensive coordinator Ron Meeks said. "We've had a lot of consistency out of him."
Davis has established himself as the Panthers' best blitzing linebacker. Carolina pointed him at the quarterback and said "go" constantly against Washington. Davis estimated he blitzed 10-15 times, and he loved it just like you would expect him to.
"You always want to be the guy that's sacking the quarterback and not just in coverage," Davis said.
Sometimes Davis blitzed on run plays, which is how the safety came about.
Washington tried to run Clinton Portis wide from its own 3 - a very questionable call in the first place. Davis knifed to the inside while Julius Peppers closed off the outside, forcing Portis to cut back in a desperate attempt to get out of his own end zone.
"All of that was Julius Peppers," Davis said.
Not really. Some, but not all. Portis is strong enough to make some players miss in that situation, but Davis has missed very few times all season when he has arrowed his way toward a ball carrier.
Davis was the Panthers' first-round draft choice in 2005 out of Georgia. The Panthers picked him almost in the same way that colleges recruit players as "athletes" instead of for a specific position.
When Davis came to Charlotte, it was unclear whether he would be better at safety or at linebacker. The Panthers weren't sure, either - they used him in a hybrid role at first and occasionally would have him shadow Michael Vick when playing the Falcons.
The answer, it turned out, was linebacker. Davis can cover a tight end in space, but it's not his forte.
"He's a fly-around linebacker," said Hollis Thomas, the Panthers' new 340-pound defensive tackle, and that's an apt description. Like middle linebacker Jon Beason, the best attribute Davis has is his speed.
In the "Cover-Two" or "Tampa Two" system employed by Meeks, the weakside linebacker has an opportunity to flow to the ball and make a lot of plays. Derrick Brooks thrived at the same position for years in Tampa Bay, making the Pro Bowl 11 times.
Davis has yet to sniff a Pro Bowl. But if the Panthers get some more wins and recognition, he will earn some serious consideration in 2009. So far this season he has two sacks, the safety and a team-high 48 tackles. He also has a welcome streak of modesty. Although Davis was originally credited for a pass breakup on fourth-and-3 against Washington, Davis kept telling reporters Sunday: "That wasn't me - it was one of the linemen."
For much of the first four games, however, it has been Davis.
As Panther head coach John Fox said Monday: "Thomas is having an excellent season. Unfortunately, the Panthers aren't. It hasn't been his fault."