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John DeShazier: Michael Thomas plans to attack the football, season

Second-year Saints receiver knows more is expected of him

Costa Mesa, Calif. – If there is a concern that Michael Thomas fully isn't aware of what's in store for him this season by opposing defenses, eliminate it.

If nothing else, Thomas has shown that he isn't just a quick study, but that he's capable of devouring while he's processing, something he has done equally well against teammates during training camp, and against defensive backs for the Los Angeles Chargers, against whom the New Orleans Saints had three joint practices this week at Jack Hammett Sports Complex, and will play Sunday in a preseason game at the StubHub Center.

The second-year receiver, who unquestionably is the Saints' No. 1 receiver, has accepted and risen to this challenge as smoothly as he acclimated to the NFL game in 2016, a season in which he set franchise rookie records for receptions (92), receiving yards (1,137) and receiving touchdowns (nine).

He entered training camp bigger (220 pounds, up from 210). He's stronger. He's just as physical if not more so (pity the cornerback who's pinned behind Thomas with the ball in flight). He's a better route runner (among the ones he appears to have perfected, the slant route).  And he's even more aware of what is his role among the receiving corps.

When the Saints traded Brandin Cooks to New England this offseason, it left Thomas as the receiver on the roster with the most-decorated NFL single season.

"I have to have very great attention to detail," Thomas said. "I have to have great discipline. I have to be in the right place at the right time for Drew (Brees) or whoever is behind center. And also, I have to lead this group better and be the guy that sets the momentum. I can't be that guy that lacks many qualities, I have to do my job at a high level.

"(As a leader), complete honesty. I think honesty is what everyone needs. Those guys in the other group have to be able to trust you and also you have to lead by example. So when your number is called you have to make that play, (and) you have to keep making that play to where they know you're going to make that play, and they want to follow you."

That would seem to be a ton of water to carry for a 24-year-old. But almost everything about Thomas suggested he was ready from the moment the Saints drafted him in the second round, No. 47 overall.

If his Twitter handle (@Cantguardmike) didn't announce his preparedness, an array of acrobatic catches during his rookie training camp did.

"You don't ever want the (defensive back) to attack the football before you, because that's when bad things happen," he said. "So I always want to attack the football and I want to win my reps and I always want to be aggressive to the ball, because I want to show the quarterback that I want the ball again."

And, of course, there was the added nugget from Coach Sean Payton, who said that he didn't participate in fantasy football, but for those who did, Thomas would be a wise investment.

Even then, Payton and Brees lauded Thomas' competitiveness.

"(It comes from) just a lot of things," Thomas said. "Growing up, how I played as a kid – rough. I always was in sports, coming up from a family (that is competitive), my uncle (former NFL standout Keyshawn Johnson). Certain things just drive me. I know I'm blessed and I'm chosen to play this game at a high level and I don't want to take that for granted."

That has helped him move on from last season. There are no benefits to dwelling in the past, Thomas said.

"All those plays I made last year, and what I did last year, those won't win these games this year," he said. "So I put that behind me a long time ago and try to do things and add more value so I can help this team win more games, and get to the playoffs and get to the Super Bowl."

Wherever it is the Saints go this season, Thomas will lead the receivers. There's a target on him, larger than last year, one that he embraced even as a rookie. Thomas wants the opponents' top cornerback to line up across from him, relishes the one-on-one challenge.

"If you want to be great, those are the guys you have to go against," he said. "Those are the guys that are going to keep you honest. Those are the guys that are going to show you what you need to work on. Those are the guys that are going to bring their 'A' games, too.

"Just going against a situation like that, it kind of gives me chills and gives me juices – I'm ready to go, just to show that I can play this game, too, at a high level."

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