Some players enter the huddle in full meltdown. Their eyes are wide, the veins on their neck quiver, and their intention is to spread as much of their rage around as possible.
Others come in armed with noise. They preach and they plead, they chatter and they chirp. They say anything that comes to mind to anyone who will listen. Sometimes, they say it twice.
There are those who gripe and those who grumble. There are those who look for answers and those who provide them. There are those who lead, and there are those who bleed.
Then there is Derrick Brooks, who merely jogs onto a field and sticks his head in the huddle.
Just like that, everything changes.
He is the best of the Bucs, smart and swift, as sure a tackler as there is in the league. But if you want to measure the true impact of Brooks, perhaps you start by taking him away from his team for a week.
Then you line him up again, and you listen as the rest of the players breathe easier.
Brooks was back at work again Friday night. After missing the first game while tending to his ailing mother in Pensacola, he returned to the field as the Bucs played their second preseason game. And it took, oh, one play before you noticed him.
On the Dolphins first play from scrimmage, Brian Griese went to throw a deep out to his right. But Brooks, backpedaling furiously, made an impossible drop into coverage and almost began his preseason with an interception.
"I should have had it," Brooks said. "I just mistimed my jump a little bit."
It wasn't his range teammates appreciated most, however. It was his return.
"It was like we were complete again," safety John Lynch said. "When he was gone, something was missing."
If you know Brooks, even a little, you know there was no choice. His mother, Geraldine Mitchell, was sick. He needed to be there. Simple as that.
This is what a man of substance does. He puts his life on hold. He shoves aside the game he loves and the glory that has finally found him, and he goes home to be at her bedside.
It's where he's supposed to be. It's what he's supposed to do. Really, isn't that what being a linebacker is all about?
Like most mothers and sons, Geraldine and Derrick are close. If he is a great athlete, after all, he inherited it from her. If you want to know the truth, it's her DNA that has given Marshall Faulk so much trouble.
In her youth, Geraldine Mitchell was a basketball player and a softball player and, for most of his life, Brooks has heard how good she was. She was a basketball player, and coaches have told Brooks she could have been a big-timer if she hadn't been pregnant with him. Geraldine herself has told Derrick that, yes, she could run with him, even if most NFL running backs can't.
As a softball player, she was a pitcher and a shortstop, and yes, she could play. Brooks laughs when he talks about it.
So what's a son supposed to do? Even when his team is a defending Super Bowl champion, even when he is the reigning defensive MVP?
He goes home, that's what. It's the same quality that made him a leader on his team. It's the same quality that made former teammate Marcus Jones once refer to him as "Captain America."
Brooks won't talk in specifics about his mother's illness. Her preference, he says. Brooks will say her health is improving. Brooks returned Saturday to Pensacola as the Bucs had the weekend off, and his hope is that this trip, he can bring her home from the hospital.
No, Brooks said, Geraldine did not have a heart attack, as a previous report said. That alarmed some of his relatives, he said.
"It's been a really emotional time," Brooks said. "It hasn't been easy. When I was young, my mom was the one who told me I could be better."
And so it was as the two of them sat together in a hospital a week ago, watching the replay of the Bucs' preseason victory over the Jets. For Brooks, it was a different angle. For eight years, Brooks has been the quiet fire of the Bucs defense. Now they were playing without him.
"It was different," he said. "I knew every call. I missed it. But I was where I was supposed to be."
Who could blame him? Still, that didn't mean Brooks wasn't as missed as, say, Spartacus would have been. When he returned to practice last week, the rest of the defense gave him a standing ovation. How often does that happen in the NFL?
More than the plays, more than the awards, this is how you judge a player. By what he means to his team. By the size of the shadow he casts across the huddle. By the way he changes the air in the room. By the way he expects to make tomorrow better than yesterday.
For example, every week during the season, Bucs linebacker coach Joe Barry gives his players two grades, one for technique and one for production. It is safe to assume that Brooks usually makes the honor role. Yet, every week, he studies his grades.
"He's like a high school freshman looking forward to getting back a science test where he knows he's done well," Barry said. "He wants to discuss every minus grade he gets, so he will know how he can get better. And he can."
This is the prime of Derrick Brooks. At last, the nation has learned his name, and it finally seems to appreciate his game. He is a champion, and he seems on his way to the Hall of Fame. He is 30 years old, and when he tells you he expects to improve, his voice does not quiver.
"Derrick is such a soft-spoken guy, some people get him wrong," Barry said. "But don't think for a minute that he doesn't want to be the best linebacker who ever played the game."
It is a good thing, then, that his mother is getting better.