If New Orleans Saints Coach Dennis Allen uses the phrase "sooner than later" regarding a scenario, bank on "sooner."
On Friday, Allen said it was "coming pretty soon" for receiver Michael Thomas to participate in team drills at training camp. On Saturday, Thomas joined team drills for the first time after ramping up from one-on-ones and seven-on-sevens. Also Saturday, safety Tyrann Mathieu joined team drills for the first time in camp.
On the eve of training camp, Allen said that Thomas, who was on the physically unable to perform list, soon would be available to join the team and the next day, Thomas cleared the PUP list and participated in the opening practice on a limited basis.
Saturday, he opened the team drill with a catch against cornerback Bradley Roby, had a pass attempt defended by cornerback Paulson Adebo and made a catch on his next target but was stripped as he made a move upfield.
"I told you it was coming sooner rather than later, right?" Allen said, smiling. "Honestly, there's a couple of times he ended up on the ground. That's all part of the process and building that confidence. I think he's in a good mind-set right now, I think he looks good physically. I'm excited about where he's at."
Mathieu participated in his third workout after missing the first six training camp practices.
"That was cool to see," Allen said of Mathieu integrating into team drills. "I was excited about getting him out here. We've kind of held the reins back on him, our decision more so that it's been his. It's part of the ramp-up process, so we'll continue to ramp him up."
"He's done great," co-defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen said. "We're just going through the proper progression to get him back to play. But he's all in. He's a really smart player. You can see him kind of getting in our defense and really understanding where he fits in and where he can make plays. He's doing a great job. I'm so fired up he's here. He is awesome. Ball of energy and he is all in. Very happy to have him here."
The New Orleans Saints took the field for practice during 2022 Training Camp presented by Rouses Markets on Saturday, August 6.
NO CEEDY: Defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson missed practice for the second consecutive day, but Allen said it wasn't unexcused.
"He's dealing with a family matter, and it's not injury related or contract related," Allen said. "He's been excused, I expect him to be back on Monday."
IN THE RED: Saturday marked another day with an emphasis on red zone offense and defense.
"I like working the situations, and I like seeing guys have to think about the things that they're seeing in a certain situation," Allen said. "And the plays that we call, you have to execute those differently – whether it's first-and-10 in the red zone, whether it's third down in the red zone – different than how you might execute those same plays out on the field. I think that's been good. I think the execution overall, on both sides of the ball, has been good. And I think you've seen some back and forth between each group, and I think that's good."
THE SUM OF ITS PARTS: Nielsen said when it comes to the defensive end rotation, New Orleans wants as many effective players as it can find.
"Philosophy-wise, if we can get three deep, four deep, five deep – we'll go as far as we can with guys who can play for us," he said. "It's about being fresh in the fourth quarter, but more importantly, being fresh every play. That's the important thing.
"If those guys are fresh every play, or if we're in a three- or four-play rotation, and they're only playing a certain amount of plays in a row, the next time they go in they're more fresh. And so, they can perform at a higher level than if a guy gets tired.
"So we want to keep those guys moving in and out. We've got a couple of guys who can play some different positions for us inside, and that helps, too. That's been a focus here. We're always looking to build depth in the group. At every position."
Nielsen also said that the Saints don't post a depth chart for the defensive line.
"We have yet to put a depth chart up in the defensive line room, at any point in any camp," he said. "We're just telling the guys, 'You're going out there first and you're going out there next. Make the most of your reps.' And that's what it's about.
"Doesn't matter where you're out there, what play, whoever you're going against – make the most of your reps. So we don't need a depth chart. Next man in, next man in, next man in. So they're all starters."
HILL SIGHTING: Taysom Hill did some work on the side during practice Saturday. His return to practice is unknown, but the side work indicated a move toward rejoining the team on the field.