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John DeShazier: Rookie receiver Michael Thomas adapting to Saints offense

Ohio State product and Drew Brees getting on the same page

It's early.

That's the caveat, the reason for which to keep enthusiasm manageable, the logic behind corralling the giddiness, affixing a label to a player that he hasn't yet earned and ladling over him expectations that aren't fair to a budding career.

But, that said, rookie receiver Michael Thomas had a moment during the New Orleans Saints' OTA workout  Thursday. Perhaps, even, a fairly significant one in the growth process for the first of the team's two second-round draft picks this year.

"Michael Thomas came up with a big catch today on third down," quarterback Drew Brees explained. "I kind of gave him a route that we have literally never (practiced) before together.

"But it was one of those where, I'm just in the moment and hey, he's my guy over there at that position. And so I kind of give him the look, give him the signal, he goes and makes the play and ran the route just like I imagined.

"That makes you feel good, too – we're on the same page even though we haven't talked about that yet, you kind of know this offense, you have a feel for the game so I like when I see that stuff out of young guys, where you feel like there are some instincts there."

Thomas didn't downplay the result, but handled it in stride, as a seasoned veteran might have.

"I had a route on where I had like an 18-yard out route," he explained. "And Drew gave me a signal where he wanted me to, instead of running that, whatever he saw in the defense, he wanted me to pump it.

"So I still had to run that route hard with my eyes and then sell it two steps, and then break it for a big gain. It was third-and-18 and we got it converted on third down."

For Brees, it was a sign of how quickly the rookie learns and adapts.

"I gave him a signal that he has never seen before," Brees said. "We talked about it, but we had never repped that route before. We just vaguely talked about it, maybe weeks ago, and it just came out because we were just playing ball and the look was right for it.

"And normally it might be Brandon Coleman, who we have repped that before, but in this case Michael Thomas is in there, he hasn't seen it before and yet, he did it. And it looked just the way I would have wanted it to look."

Caveat aside, Thomas so far has looked the part during the Saints' OTAs. The second three-day period wrapped up Thursday.

In those six practices, the 6-foot-3, 212-pound Thomas has shown the ability to gather and process information, to put into practice the notes he takes, and perhaps most important so far, to not repeat errors.

"I think he's picking up well on it," Brees said. "He's in a great room with guys like Brandon Coleman and Willie Snead, Brandin Cooks – just being around those guys that are fiery and they're hungry and they come out here with great intent and purpose. I think Michael is feeding off that, too.

"He came from a great program at Ohio State where those guys were required to come with an intensity and a competitive nature to them. You can tell that he's used to being in that environment. And he works at it.

"After practice ends we're getting a lot of extra reps together, where it's just us two and we're focusing in on a certain concept or a certain split or certain footwork or a certain look, whatever it might be, and you can tell it's all starting to register. And once he picks it up, he gets it. His improvement just over these six practices has been awesome. From day one until now, the same mistakes are not being made, he's on to the next set of challenges, he's continuing to progress well."

Said receivers coach John Morton: "It's a lot for a young player to come in here, especially the way the college game is – spread offense, they're not even in the huddle getting plays and formations, so you've got to start from scratch.

"He's got to learn everything – got to learn how to get in the huddle, get out, here's my route, I've got to read coverage and all that. But every day he's getting better, every single day and that's all I'm asking of him, get one percent better every day at something."

So far, the increments are adding up. Thomas has been aided by extra practice reps (Cooks has not participated in team drills in the work that was viewed by the media Thursday and last Thursday) and has taken advantage of it.

"You're held accountable," he said. "It's the NFL. Coach (Sean Payton) has to trust me and I have to be accountable and I have to do my job, regardless of if guys are injured or if everyone is healthy. I've got to do my job.

"Just staying locked in in meetings, preparation, taking notes every day, talking to veteran guys, talking to coach, getting me prepared for that moment, going over the script in situations like that, always being keyed in to the quarterback."

And being ready to produce a play like Thursday's third-down conversion, providing an early glimpse of what might be in store.

"He's doing well," Payton said. "A lot of those young guys are getting a lot of reps, and I think watching him, he's catching it well. He's playing one position now at the 'X,' but I think he's picking up what we're doing and certainly spending a lot of time.

"The rookies, particularly, we'll keep longer for meetings. They're in a little bit of a catch-up mode and yet, he's handling it. Just as the team is getting the install, he's getting it so it's new to everyone who's new. But I would say he's progressing real well."

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