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John DeShazier: Mike Thomas making plays, turning heads in Saints training camp

Ohio State product has made several highlight-reel grabs

White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. – Humility, level-headedness and consistency are traits Mike Thomas is making sure to grasp as a rookie receiver, less than a handful of days into his first NFL training camp with the New Orleans Saints at The Greenbrier, after already having wowed teammates and fans alike with several highlight-type catches.

"That's life," he said Sunday. "You're going to have your highs and your lows but when you get to the top you've got to remain the same, do what you did to get there, or else you'll fall off."

But let's be real: The man's Twitter handle is @Cantguardmike.

That's Can't Guard Mike, and in all honesty it often has been true during his first four days of training camp, and the Saints' offseason workouts.

On one deep pass Friday, down the left sideline, Thomas, the first of New Orleans' two second-round draft picks this year, dived as he neared the goal line, stretched out his left hand and made a one-handed catch while the step-for-step defender had position and almost was attached to Thomas' right (inside) hip.

"The ball was in the air," he said. "I feel like when the ball is in the air, covered or not, I trust my ball skills over whoever is covering me. I take a lot of pride in my ball skills, so if I get my hands on it I want to make a play.

"The quarterback threw it out there and he trusted me to make a play. He threw it out there for a reason, so I could compete."

Another deep pass the next day, toward the back left corner of the end zone, featured a defensive back perfectly positioned in front of Thomas – who leapt over his defender and wrestled away the ball for a touchdown.

Can't Guard Mike, indeed.

"That's how I approach this," Thomas said. "Some people might say it's cocky or something, but that's just how I approach the game. When I line up one-on-one, in my mind-set as a receiver, I feel like no one can cover me if I do my job, do what I was taught, off the repetitions and people I've gone against and drills I've practiced. I feel like I can't be covered."

So far, so good for the former Ohio State standout.

The Saints weren't especially desperate for help at receiver, even after having released Marques Colston, the all-time leading receiver in franchise history, this offseason. New Orleans returned one 1,000-yard receiver (Brandin Cooks) and another who fell 16 yards short of 1,000 (Willie Snead) from last season.

But Thomas, the No. 47 overall pick, was a 6-foot-3, 212-pound package that the Saints chose not to bypass, and he has made it clear why New Orleans chose him.

"Each day, it seems like he's making a play or two," Coach Sean Payton said. "He's got that passion that you're looking for. You get the sense he really enjoys being out here and competing.

"It's what you saw on college tape, his practice tape and his game tape. So, it's good to see because with every one of these guys that you draft, you see something that you really like, and you're hoping that you begin to see it early.

"Certainly with him, he's made some plays. He's got a lot of work to do still, but he's eager to please, and he has been encouraging when you see him in traffic. He's got really good hands away from his body, so he's not someone that lets the ball get in on his chest. He's confident enough with his thumbs together to pluck the ball. That will give him a chance to have a little bit more run after the catch ability. That's something you also saw at Ohio State."

Still, the accolades carry a caveat. Veteran safety Roman Harper, while noting Thomas' obvious skills and play-making ability, and admitting to being wowed by the string of shake-your-head-in-disbelief grabs, reminded that Thomas has yet to catch a pass in an NFL game.

Those are the kind of reminders that Thomas said he appreciates, and notes.

He said the advice he has been receiving is to, "Just stay humble, keep doing what you're doing, keep getting better every day and competing.

"Keep building on that, don't let it go to my head, use that. Now, that's what they're probably going to expect from me, so when the ball is in the air I'm probably going to get another opportunity to make that play.

"So be ready when it presents itself and help this team. There are ups and downs that coach talks about – sometimes the defense might make a play, the offense might make a play, but it's a momentum game. So if I can start that fire, I'd like to be that person."

For now, he has sparked an inferno of interest. Not so much that he believes he has all the answers, but enough that he already has name recognition among Saints fans and the attention of teammates, professional athletes who aren't always easily impressed.

Some of those men are the ones he looks to, as he learns how to approach professional life and training camp success.

"In our locker room we have great veterans that have real successful careers, from (quarterback) Drew (Brees) to (defensive end) Cam (Jordan) to (safety Kenny) Vaccaro and guys like that," Thomas said. "So really what I do is, I may not say anything to them, but I follow them and I watch them.

"I feel like I can get better every day, take good notes, watch film, ask questions, talk to guys like Cooks, talk to Drew. I feel like I still can develop."

And, as is the case with most rookies, Thomas is a work in progress. His blocking is an area in which he can improve.

"I think he's someone that is capable of being a good blocker on the perimeter for our running game," Payton said. "So far, they understand who they're blocking – because it can change, whether it's the corner or the safety, depending on the look they get. I expect him to be good in that area."

So far, he looks good in most areas. And Thomas doesn't anticipate any letup.

"That's how I approach the game, I compete," he said. "There might be two men on me, it might be one man, just compete and try to win."

Photos from New Orleans Saints Training Camp presented by Verizon at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia on July 31, 2016

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