It's not so much that the NFL's most consistently potent offense since 2006 can't function without running back Pierre Thomas. But it certainly helps the explosive unit to operate even more efficiently when he's available.
So Thomas' return to practice on Tuesday, after missing almost a week of training camp, was a welcome sight for a team that has come to expect his consistent production. The seven-year veteran, who had limited activity Tuesday, won't likely need a ton of practice and game snaps in order to be exactly where he needs to be, physically and mentally, as the Saints prepare for the regular-season opener.
"For a guy like Pierre, it's not that he needs a lot of reps, but he needs 'X' amount of reps from a running back standpoint, to be in football shape," Sean Payton said. "His weight is down, mentally he's very sharp so he knows our system. It's just a matter of getting enough work to where by the time we open up in September, his body is comfortable and used to the physicality of the game.
"There's a few of these guys that we're slowly going to get acclimated – (cornerback) Patrick Robinson is one, (receiver) Marques (Colston) – getting them ready. But they're veteran players, especially when you look at Marques and Pierre."
Thomas is the eighth-most tenured Saint on the roster, having joined the franchise as a free agent rookie in 2007 that stuck as a special teams standout. And since proving efficient enough for Payton and his staff to keep, Thomas has become one of the most productive running backs in franchise history.
He's fourth in team history in yards per carry (4.8), fifth in rushing touchdowns (24), seventh in rushing yards (2,974) and tied for eighth in total touchdowns (33). He always has been an excellent blocker and, likely, no back on the roster – and few in the league – execute a screen pass more effectively.
Thomas, who has played at least 14 games in four of his six previous seasons, was the first player in team history to gain more than 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game – 105 rushing and 121 receiving, against the Bears in 2007.
"He's been around a long time, been in this same offense for a long time," quarterback Drew Brees said. "He's a mainstay. But any time a guy is banged up, misses a couple of days, he's anxious to get back.
"He's not the personality like most of us, that enjoys being out. You want to be in there with the guys and you want to be in the action."
Thomas got back to it Tuesday for the first time in nearly a week. His activity was limited, but it's not as if he requires a ton of it to get to where he needs to be physically and mentally. He just needs enough of it to be what's become expected, which will be enough to help the Saint offense operate at the peak efficiency, which has become expected.
NOTES: Also rejoining practice today, in limited capacity, were outside linebacker Junior Galette, defensive end Tom Johnson, outside linebacker Martez Wilson and inside linebacker Ray Shipman. Receiver Courtney Roby injured a toe during the final half of Tuesday's work and had to be helped from the field. His status is unknown. Players who sat out practice included Colston, cornerback Chris Carr, inside linebacker Chris Chamberlain, guard Andrew Tiller and center Eric Olsen.