Kwon Alexander led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with 146 tackles in 2016. So far in 2017, he has one.
That's obviously the result of injury, as Alexander pulled a hamstring in the first half of the Buccaneers' season-opening win over Chicago and hasn't played since. His is the last name listed on the team's defensive stat page at the moment, thanks to that lone tackle against the Bears, but he's about to start climbing back to the top of the chart.
"I'm ready to get back and hit somebody," said Alexander, the Buccaneers' third-year middle linebacker and emotional leader. "I've only got one tackle on the season, so I've got to get my stats back up."
Alexander was upbeat after Friday's practice that capped a week of preparation for the Buffalo Bills. That's not unusual for him, of course, but he had a particularly good reason to feel chipper on this day. He had just finished his third straight practice without limitations, meaning it was quite likely that he would return to the lineup on Sunday in Buffalo.
"It's a blessing to be back," said Alexander. "I'm ready to get out there and have fun. I've been off about five weeks, so I've got a lot of energy built up and I'm ready to get out there.
"It's just hard being on the sideline period not playing and seeing everyone else out there playing. All the hard work you put in over the summertime and you've got to sit out and watch everybody else play. It was hard because I couldn't do [anything] about it. I tried my best to talk to everybody [and] get them hyped, but I just couldn't do [anything] about it. Now, I can do something about it this Sunday, so this is what's going on right now."
Alexander said he felt well enough to play last week, but hamstring injuries always beg caution, as a too-early return can lead to a disheartening setback. That's exactly what happened to running back Doug Martin last season, and much of his season was wiped out as a result.
Besides, rookie Kendell Beckwith had performed quite well in Alexander's vacated spot at middle linebacker, or MIKE. Now Alexander can resume his spot, assuming he's cleared to play on Sunday, and Beckwith can go back to playing strongside linebacker, or SAM.
"He is doing a great job," said Alexander of his teammate and fellow LSU product. "It's hard to come in and learn MIKE this fast, and SAM like what he's been doing. He picked it up so fast and he's been making great plays. It's going to come over this Sunday and he is going to make plays at SAM too. He's going to have a great game."
The Buccaneers certainly hope to have a better game than a week ago, when the defense failed to stop Arizona in the first half and the Cardinals raced out to a big lead in an eventual 38-33 win. Linebacker Lavonte David returned in that game after a two-week absence and immediately contributed a fumble-return for a touchdown. Now it appears the Bucs will have all the playmakers back in the middle of their lineup.