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John DeShazier: Michael Thomas knows he's not sneaking up on any opponents

Teams planning to stop Saints top receiver

The stealth factor disappeared some time ago, somewhere along the way while Michael Thomas was breaking every rookie receiving record in New Orleans Saints history, so there would be no sneaking up on any opponents this season.

Instead, foes are treating Thomas with the respect that goes along with catching 92 passes for 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns in 2016. They know exactly where he is at all times when he's on the field, and they're doing all they can to take him away.

Don't expect Carolina's approach to differ much Sunday, when the Saints (0-2) face the Panthers (2-0) at Bank of America Stadium. Thomas had 10 catches for 134 yards in the first two games.

"It's my second year, I'm not – I guess people would say – a secret or an unknown," he said. "People are trying to take me away because they know what I do in this passing offense. They're trying to eliminate me, do different things. But that's what the coaches and everyone are here for, to beat situations like that. We're not panicking or anything, we're just going to figure it out."

One of the solutions, Thomas said, simply is to exert more.

"Go harder. Add more value, everyone, as a complete offense. We know we can get better, we're eager to get better and get back to where we were and show that we're capable of doing that. We just have to take advantage of our opportunities when they present themselves and let somebody make the play when their number is called."

That's the expectation of a Saints offense that hasn't finished lower than sixth in the league in total offense since 2006. Last year, the Saints led the league in total offense for the sixth time since '06.

Thomas said he has spoken to several receivers about being the top target of an opposing defense. The advice?

"Just, your opportunities when they come, you just have to be that much more desperate, have that much more sense of urgency to make those because that might be the only time you get that matchup or your only chance to touch the ball, because they're bringing everyone to your side," he said.

"But don't put your head down about it. Some people say it kind of comes as respect. But me being second year, a young guy, I still want to touch the ball and help this offense move the ball. So whatever I can do to add value, I'm going to do it. As long as we're winning games. We're trying to win games here."

Thomas, in fact, drew increased coverage when the Saints scored their first touchdown against New England, a 5-yard pass from Drew Brees to Brandon Coleman, in Sunday's 36-20 loss. Coach Sean Payton said the two receivers ran a mirror route, Coleman on the left side and Thomas on the right, and that the coverage rolled toward Thomas. That allowed Coleman to break free – with an assist from tight end Josh Hill, who occupied one defender, and the two rubbed Coleman's defender as Hill worked toward the end zone.

Like Brees, Thomas said the Saints, who are averaging 19.5 points and 386.5 yards per game, are nearing a breakthrough offensively.

"I feel like we're very close," he said. "We have to make those contested catches, just know that everyone has a value and everyone has a role in this offense where when their number is called, we're counting on you to make that play. And that's all we have to do, is make those plays.

"Ultimately, this offense has been moving great for multiple years. We never question that or the game plan, we just have to make our plays when we get the chance."

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