The big thing about Michael Thomas’ presence and availability for the New Orleans Saints this season is that nowadays, it doesn't appear to be much of a big thing at all.
With each passing day and practice of Thomas doing what Thomas has done, newspaper clippings of the recent past yellow a little more, pictures become a bit more outdated and the eye test rolls forward to the present.
Early questions about whether he could stay healthy have dissolved as Thomas simply has gone about his business each and every day, competing for every pass in his vicinity, rarely if ever missing practice let alone a rep, working as hard when there are no cameras as he does when the lights are on and the videos can show him from almost every conceivable angle.
"I feel good," Thomas said. "I like the progress that I'm making. I feel like just being able to be a part of an offense like this with guys like A.K. (running back Alvin Kamara), (receiver) Chris (Olave), (receiver) Rashid (Shaheed), is just exciting for any player.
"When you have opportunities to come out there and play with that group every Sunday, it's fun. So whatever it takes to be out there, I'm all in."
It definitely took a lot for Thomas to be back out there, participating in his eighth NFL season. The Saints (4-4) will play Chicago (2-6) on Sunday in the Caesars Superdome.
From 2020-22, due to ankle and toe injuries, Thomas played in 10 games. He missed all of 2021, and in the abbreviated time he caught 56 passes for 609 yards and three touchdowns.
But months of rehab after multiple surgeries put Thomas on track not only to return, but to return to form. So far that has been the case: 38 catches for 439 yards and a touchdown in eight games, with the trademark traffic catches and the willingness to deliver and absorb a level of contact that might interrupt participation for others. His career totals now stand at 564 catches (second in franchise history to Marques Colston's 711) for 6,560 yards and 36 touchdowns.
Thomas never doubted that he'd be back, playing at a high level.
"That's what it's all about, keeping that confidence, keeping that belief in yourself, your ability, your craft and your preparation," he said. "The days that you took to get to this point, that's really what it's all about. You can't lose that. If you lose that, that's kind of like the fire.
"That's kind of like what keeps you going. I felt like that was the most important thing I couldn't lose. At the end of the day, I had to stay positive and keep moving in the right direction."
When Thomas is moving in the right direction, so, too, is the Saints' offense. In the last three games New Orleans has totaled 430, 407 and 511 yards, the first time the offense has gained 400 or more yards in three consecutive games since the 2018 season.
"I think Mike's had an important part in our offense, and hopefully as we continue to go throughout the season he'll continue to be that," Coach Dennis Allen said. "I think probably as much as anything, his competitiveness, his toughness, his grit, his willingness to battle through and compete has been awesome. He's been a great teammate and been a really vocal force amongst our offense."
"I think he's shown what we saw in training camp," quarterback Derek Carrsaid. "He was coming back off the injuries and the rehabs and all that. We've all been so happy with Mike, and what he's brought – his mind-set that he's brought in the building, everyone is just super pleased with Mike and the mentality that he has.
"Me and Mike talk for sure after every game. There's things, we think the same way: 'We've got to do this, this and this in practice this week.' The communication with me and Mike has been great. Like everyone in the building has said, they're just been so happy with the way he has come in and approached things. He has been super productive for us."
Too, Thomas has taken on more of a leadership role for the Saints. Likely, only Kamara and offensive linemen Ryan Ramczyk and Andrus Peat can claim to have as many reps in the Saints' offense as Thomas, the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year in 2019.
So in addition to the tough catch, he also has been willing to dispense the tough love when necessary.
"If it works, I'm going to do a lot of it," he said. "Whatever it takes. At the end of the day, it's all about winning. If they see me speaking to the guys and being honest and Coach gives me the green light to lead and do those types of things, I accept the challenge and I know that's all contributing in to the role to make better plays, make this a better team.
"To bring a sense of urgency, keep guys alert – to whom much is given, much is expected. So I've got to be that guy every day and if that's what they need me to do and that helps us win games and get our ultimate goal, that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to contribute in any way I can.
"That's pretty cool, too, because in order to get in that role and have that position – a lot of guys can talk, but that doesn't mean the guys are going to follow them or rally behind him or you see a change or spark or sense of urgency. So to be in that position, I believe in always being honest with guys. Tough love, but being honest. At the end of the day we all are in this together. We all come to work and we're all contributing to add value to this team and to this organization.
"Sometimes I feel guys are scared to maybe give that tough love because they don't want to discourage or make someone feel uncomfortable. But once you realize that we're all in this together, we're all here to accomplish one thing, there's no ego, none of that. That's just my whole approach – just keeping it honest, staying in the moment, encouraging guys. It's pretty powerful how it works, I take a lot of pride in it but I don't want to overstep and do too much. I just want to do what's right for this team."
What's right for this team, is Michael Thomas being Michael Thomas.
And, partly, that means off days are taken grudgingly, even now. Thomas was ill last Saturday, the day before the Saints played the Colts, but he played and caught four passes for 68 yards. The illness and rest kept him out of Wednesday's practice, but he was back as a full participant Thursday.
"It's like where we're at as a team, where we're at as a unit, Coach talks about communication and the details," he said. "Me being a leader on the offense, I've got to lead by example all the time and I've got to be able to go out there and sometimes get things going. The role I play, I enjoy playing my role and to be able to come in here and to be a focal point or a contributor on this offense, you don't want to miss days. Because it's a fun offense once you get clicking and everybody is on the same page."