Veteran receiver Thomas looks to be on the path to return for the regular season

Published 5:06 pm Wednesday, August 17, 2022

By John DeShazier

New Orleans Saints

Michael Thomas looks ready.

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Michael Thomas has looked ready for a couple of weeks.

Michael Thomas looks ready for the NFL regular season to begin, because the New Orleans Saints receiver very much in practice has looked like the receiver who was an All-Pro and NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2019, the last season he was healthy.

Except, Thomas says he isn’t quite ready just yet.

“I definitely say personally still getting there,” he said Wednesday, following the second day of two joint practices against Green Bay heading into Friday’s preseason game against the Packers at Lambeau Field. “But always try to play like nothing happened and put it behind you, and just put your foot in the ground and go hard, Point A to Point B. Try to always just play hard, play with a lot of effort, play to the whistle so that none of those things show up.”

All due respect to Thomas’ self-evaluation, those things – an ankle injury, two surgeries and rehabilitation that cost him most of 2020 and all of ’21 – have all but disintegrated.

“When the ball kicks off for real, Mike Thomas is going to be ready to go,” Coach Dennis Allen said. “And I’m excited about that.

“I think he looks great. I thought he looked a little better today than (Tuesday). When I watch Michael Thomas out at practice, I see Michael Thomas that I saw pre-injury. I see a big, strong, physical wide receiver that makes a ton of contested catches. I saw it in these practices. I kind of see a guy that looks pretty good.”

“Mike is gonna be Mike,” cornerback Marshon Lattimore said. “I’m glad I have him back out there. Him being injured, he was away from the team, just having him back out there, having his energy out there and everything brings everything back to the offense that we need.

“Strong. He’s strong. Catch point, whatever, he’s just strong. He plays bigger than what he is.”

At 6 feet 3, 212 pounds, he’s plenty big and strong. He’s also plenty sure that he has been on a good program to lead to his return.

“The program that the team has me on has really allowed me to start slowly, transitioning and getting back to my old self and getting a flow for the game,” Thomas said. “Being out here in these joint practices allows me to compete against another guy, work on some technique and get back to the real thing.

“I trust Dennis, I trust his plan that he has for me. I’m here to take coaching and find out the things that I can improve on from here until Week 1, and maximize the opportunity of improving those and becoming a better player before we get to Week 1. Every day is another day to come out here and compete, fine tune our craft and meet Coach at that point. He’s expecting me to be ready Week 1, so I have to be ready Week 1.”

With that in mind, Thomas sounds exactly the way he has sounded in each of his previous six seasons. He’s a man who revels the grind, lives in the lab, treats every rep as if it’s his last.

“Just fine-tuning everything,” he said. “Mastering my craft. Attention to detail, the little things, those are the type of things that get you open in this league. I could just keep improving every day.

“That’s the good thing about coming out here and having high-intensity practices and competing and working on your game and just perfecting your craft. I’m far from perfecting my craft, so I feel like every day, I can find something to get better at.

“You definitely appreciate (being out there). And you just want to encourage the younger guys, take care of your body, handle your business and make the most out of. Play hard, don’t take a rep for granted and lead by example.”

NO JAMEIS: Quarterback Jameis Winston returned to practice on a limited basis (no team drills) Tuesday for the first time since injuring his foot on Aug. 8, and was limited again Wednesday. He will not play in Friday’s preseason game.

“Our plan was to go through a little bit of the same deal that we did yesterday,” Allen said on Wednesday. When asked if it was possible that Winston would play against the Packers, Allen said, “No, I don’t think so.”

ROOK SHINING: Rookie receiver Chris Olave has had his share of standout moments during training camp, and had more of them during Wednesday’s joint practice.

“He caught a deep ball today, which was outstanding to see,” Allen said. “What I’ve seen out of him the last couple of days, I’ve seen some speed, I’ve seen some transition at the top of the route and I’ve seen him catch the football. I thought he took a step forward in these last two practices.”

SHORT DAY: Practice wasn’t nearly as productive for one of Olave’s teammates at receiver. Jarvis Landry was involved in a dust-up and was dismissed from practice for the day. Allen and the staff haven’t been bashful about cutting practice short for players who’ve lost composure, the most prominent being rookie offensive tackle Trevor Penning, who was involved in post-whistle skirmishes for two straight days before being run off after a third consecutive shoving match.

DINGED LINE: Right tackle Ryan Ramczyk was held out of Wednesday’s practice after participating Tuesday. So, for the start of practice, left tackle James Hurst shifted to right tackle and Penning opened with the starters at left tackle.

Hurst had to leave practice early (foot injury) and while Penning also left and missed a couple of reps, he returned. Rookie Lewis Kidd manned the other tackle spot.

“We got a little light on the offensive line today,” Allen said. “They’ve got a really good front, so it led to some challenges in terms of protection. But I thought our guys fought, I thought our guys battled through. A couple of guys took a ton of snaps, Louis Kidd, Trevor Penning. Those guys took a ton of snaps and I saw some good things.”

FRIDAY GOALS: “Again, just go out and compete,” Allen said. “Certainly, I’d like to see us score a bunch of points and them not score any. That would be a positive. But I want to see our team go out and compete, because I think that’s the most important characteristic that your team has to have, is a competitive nature. They’ve got to be fighters. And I think our group is made up like that. I think we’ve got a gritty, frickin tough group. And I like that.”