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Training Camp

Michael Thomas a physical presence at receiver for New Orleans Saints

'I try to make every play'

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A wise, learned observer saw the one-on-one drill between receivers and defensive backs during New Orleans Saints training camp, and jokingly remarked, "That's birds fighting."

Hilarious, and possibly true, about 98 percent of the time.

Submerged within that other two percentage points is the rare receiver who plays with a clenched fist instead of an open hand. The guy who is schooled on the finer points of playing his position – like splits, depth and precision – but who also is interested in the physical domination aspect of the sport. The guy who can be poetry in motion on one play, and a wrecking ball on the next.

If Michael Thomas, the Saints' record-setting third-year receiver, isn't the most physical receiver in the NFL, it won't take long to find his name on the list.

"You've got to ask some of these DBs but I feel like if we throw on the film, it can get into a fight," Thomas said. "If we have to fight it out, we'll fight it out. How ever we have to play, I'll play it."

However they've played it, Thomas has had the winning hand more often than not.

Thomas, New Orleans' second-round draft pick (No. 47 overall) in 2016, totaled 196 receptions in his first two seasons, the most in NFL history for a player in his first two years – including a franchise-record 104 last year – for 2,382 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Few sights are as impressive as Thomas slapping away the hands of a defender, or slamming on breaks as one skids past, or catching a pass on a slant route that appears to be as reliable an option as the Saints have in their offensive playbook.

When he finishes off a play with a bodybuilder flex, it's not just for show.

"I try to make every play," he said. "Hold yourself to a high standard. Don't make any mistakes – no mental errors. I think the chip is just stuck with me now from my upbringing."

It's evident that Thomas is about winning every rep, every day. Regardless of whether it's in OTAs, minicamp, training camp, preseason game, Sunday afternoon, Sunday night, Monday night or Thursday night, the competitor in him doesn't sleep.

"Every day, just come out here and compete," he said. "Give my best effort, try to set the standard for the room, try to be a guy who leads by example because I know young guys are watching me and looking for someone to be that example. So I take a lot of pride in that, and I just come out here and try to compete, get better and make every play.

"I came from a competitive background and I've always had to compete my whole life. So just to come out here, and football makes it easier because you're going against an opponent, and it's one-on-one matchups and it's a team sport, so we're all picking on each other trying to move the ball and put points on the board."

The Saints' secondary is improved. The young core that wowed last year (cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley, safeties Marcus Williams and Vonn Bell) now benefit from the tutelage and play-making of veteran safety Kurt Coleman.

Still, there are days when Thomas appears to be untouchable. If you can't agree that his Twitter handle (@Cantguardmike) is applicable, it possibly is because you're just choosing to be contrary.

And, likely, Thomas doesn't mind that at all. He has a chip on his shoulder the size of a redwood; whether interior or exterior, he'll take the motivation and excel off it.

"Just wanting the ball more when it's in the air," he said. "My father, watching him growing up, a lot of life examples. Having to fight for things, not always being the top person but having to crawl out of the mud or sticky situations and just get in and fight for everything I have now.

"It's turned into a habit and I think it's a great habit for this sport. And I take a lot of pride in it."

A number of bruised defensive backs – physically, and mentally – are proof of that.

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