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Pierre Thomas still trying to show that he belongs in NFL

Seven-year veteran is among the Saints' most consistent performers


He has teammates who are bigger, stronger or faster.

Some of them may run between the tackles better, while others more quickly may turn the corner. Some may block better, and others may be more complete receivers.

But combine everything that a New Orleans Saints running back should be under Coach Sean Payton, and the composite picture is going to bear a striking resemblance to Pierre Thomas.

Don't let the baby face deceive. Thomas has seven seasons of production on him, seven seasons of reliability, seven seasons of being able to perform every task so well that it no longer should surprise if he pops off a 130-yards-from-scrimmage game, brick walls a blitzing linebacker, powers between the tackles for a six-yard run or executes another screen pass to perfection, resulting in a 10- to 15-yard pickup.

All in the same game.

"I've been here a lot longer than the rest of the guys, so I know the system very well," Thomas said. "If you look at it, I can do all (roles). I can catch the ball out of the backfield, I can run through the tackles and I can block very well. So you could say that I'm that all-around back, that guy who can fill every position if it's needed.

"Like when (Darren) Sproles goes down, I can help fill that position (as a receiving threat and return man). But we also have Travaris Cadet, who is a shifty guy, who is a quick guy just like Sproles. So why not put him in that position, and still have Pierre as the backup, because he still knows. You're still covered."

Covered, as in a security blanket, which is what Thomas has been in many ways for the Saints since joining the franchise as a rookie free agent in 2007.

He's on the verge of leading the team in rushing for the third time, with 486 yards and a touchdown on 121 carries entering Sunday's nationally televised game against Carolina at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

And as the season has progressed, Thomas has warmed to the occasion. In the most grueling string of the year, a three-games-in-12-days stretch against Dallas, San Francisco and Atlanta – all Saints victories – Thomas accounted for 325 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns.

He ran for 209 yards and a touchdown on 38 carries (5.5 yards per carry) and caught 17 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown.

"He's steady," Payton said. "He's one of those players that, since we brought him in here, he's very versatile. He knows what to do.

"You see him both in the screen game and the running game. What goes unnoticed, unless you watch film, is how good he is in pass pickup and how strong he is at the point of attack."

His teammates have a pretty good appreciation for him. Partly, what they see in him is the hunger that remains from a free agent rookie who had no guarantees other than a chance.

"I've got to come in here and show them that I've got it, every day," Thomas said. "They always bring in younger guys, great athletes and I've got to try to beat them out every day. You've got to prove yourself in this league every day in practice, every day when you're out there on that football field and it's game time.

"When you come into this facility, you've got to show them that you belong here. You've got to have the right attitude. You've got to have that look that says, 'I'm here to win a championship.' You want to go out there and show it.

"That's what they look for. That's what I'm trying to give. I work my butt off, in and out. I was always told in the beginning, 'Don't get comfortable. Don't get comfortable.' So, I'm not comfortable yet."

If he's not, he often looks the part.

Seven years has earned him the right to be called a leader in the locker room. Only six Saints on the game-day roster have been with the franchise longer. And his production – 3,460 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns on 743 carries, and 261 receptions for 2,123 yards and 11 scores – has made him an invaluable contributor.

All that work has come while playing in an offense that doesn't specifically specialize or feature a singular weapon, that's multifaceted and attacks from all angles.

"I don't feel left out," he said. "We've got a lot of play-makers on this team, which is great. The work can be distributed through so many people. It throws defenses off because they can't cover just one or two guys. You've got to cover everybody out there on that field because everybody on the field is dangerous.

"You've got a lot of weapons out there and you've got to make sure they're all covered. It's a good thing, but sometimes it's a bad thing because if you're that type of guy who needs that attention and who wants to make sure he's well-known out there, you're going to have guys who are going to be upset being a part of this team. Because we've got a lot of play-makers and that ball could be distributed to any one of us.

"But I feel that this team is not like that. Everybody is unselfish on this team, willing to help each other out and we pull for each and every one of us to do well."

Thomas, Saints fans have learned, is easy to pull for. The underdog always is.

The year he was extended an invitation to join the team after going undrafted, the Saints picked a running back in the fourth round (Ohio State's Antonio Pittman). Thomas beat him out for a roster spot and was issued a number (23) that combined the first two numbers of his high school and college jerseys (20 and 30).

The rest, they say, is history.

"Who knows how it would have worked out anywhere else," Thomas said. "God put me here for a reason. He put me with this team for a reason.

"He said, 'This is where you belong. This is your path, you need to start walking. This is your journey. You're starting here, in New Orleans.' I think everything happens for a reason."

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