By Justin Macione
Like any NFL player, New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas is always looking for success and whatever edge he can get to lead the Black and Gold to win on gamedays. But for Thomas, his week of preparation leading up to a contest is equal in importance to the game itself, whether it's film study, conditioning, training room sessions or massages to ease the bumps and bruises.
"Everything I do throughout the week is helping me perform at my best on Sunday, which is catching the ball, running precise routes and helping my team win," said Thomas. "How I work is in my DNA. It's my makeup. It's how I started, it's what gotten me here and I can't really change now."
While the work ethic goes back to youth football in the Los Angeles area and ran through the Southern California High School circuit, establishing a solid routine was something that Thomas really started to perfect in college at Ohio State under the leadership of Head Coach Urban Meyer and Assistant AD for Football Sports Performance Mickey Mariotti. This manic preparation carried over after he was selected in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Saints under influences such as Head Coach Sean Payton and Senior Offensive Assistant Curtis Johnson.
Focus on weekly preparation has help Thomas continue his evolution which started with a breakout rookie season with 92 receptions for 1,137 yards, but has evolved to where he led the National Football League in receiving with 125 grabs for 1,405 yards and nine touchdowns in 2018, the second Saints wideout to capture the league receiving title. The 2018 receptions total was fifth-all-time in NFL record books and he has posted career totals of 346 receptions for 4,053 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Besides being ranked fifth in club record books for receptions, and in the top ten in yardage and receiving touchdowns despite three and a quarter seasons worth of work, no player in NFL history has matched Thomas' 355 Receptions through 52 regular season games. Thomas, Odell Beckham Jr. and Anquan Boldin are the only three wideouts in NFL record books with at least 300 receptions and 4,000 receiving yards in their first 50 games.
While Brees has missed the past two games with a right thumb injury that requires surgery, Thomas has been one of several Saints skill players, who have followed the motto of not trying to be a superhero, just try to do a little bit more and concentrate on routine, study and following assignments.
"We just have to be ourselves," said Thomas. We just have to keep putting points on the field, score and do our job and make explosive plays. It's not that we have to be superheroes with Drew down, it's that we have to execute our assignments to the best of our ability."
Execution has been paramount for Thomas with Teddy Bridgewater taking the place of Brees temporarily. With 34 Receptions for 361 Yards and one touchdown, he is tied for first in the NFL in receiving and has served as his signal-caller's most reliable option in the passing game, just like he has for Brees since 2006. In the first contest without Brees, a 33-27 win at Seattle on September 22, he posted five receptions for 54 yards and caught a third quarter, one-yard touchdown pass from Bridgewater to help New Orleans go up 27-7. In Sunday night's vs. Dallas, he posted a game-high nine grabs for a game-best 95 yards, joining Beckham in being tied for being the quickest player to reach 350 career receptions, both in their 52nd game. A Saints win today against Tampa Bay, in the club's first NFC South matchup of the season, would keep New Orleans in good position to defend their two straight division titles.
Thomas' consistency through these 52 regular season games and four playoff contests (31 more catches for 423 yards and three touchdowns) is why the club signed Thomas to a multi-year contract extension during training camp. In addition to his on-field intensity, Thomas also is looking to start to establish a legacy in the Southern California native's adopted hometown. Initiatives to help the local homeless, elderly and underserved are a priority for Thomas, who wants to be the best he can be no matter what he is doing. On the field it is also mentoring younger wideouts such as Austin Carr, Deonte Harris and Tre'Quan Smith, helping them push it to the limit as well.
"The biggest thing I'm trying to do is earn every penny of the contract," said Thomas. "And maybe you don't see everything, but that is doing the best I possibly can in everything I do."