New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas returned to practice in a limited capacity Wednesday, the first step toward Thomas perhaps playing in Sunday's game against Detroit at Ford Field.
"He looked good," quarterback Drew Brees said Wednesday. "He looked really good. I know he's been champing at the bit. He's a guy who has never missed time, is always fighting through things throughout the season, but such a tough guy and a great competitor. So, great to get him back, he looked really good, so we'll see what that role is and go from there."
Thomas has missed the last two games, losses to the Raiders and Packers. The Saints lost the only other game Thomas has missed, also, in 2016. Seven other teammates joined Thomas on the injury report, three of whom - guard Andrus Peat (ankle), tight end Jared Cook (groin) and cornerback Jackrabbit Jenkins (illness) - did not practice.
In the season-opening victory against Tampa Bay, Thomas caught three passes for 17 yards.
New Orleans (1-2) has been forced to seek production in the passing game without Thomas, the NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2019, when he set a league-record with 149 catches, for a franchise-record 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns.
"I know he'd been itching to play," said running back Alvin Kamara, who, in Thomas' absence, has vaulted to the league lead in touchdowns (six) and yards from scrimmage (438). "If it was up to him, he would've tried to play the last two weeks, but obviously when you're dealing with injury, you got to do what you got to do to get healthy so you don't set yourself back.
"He looked good out there. So, hopefully he's ready or hopefully he feels ready enough to play."
The Saints preach "next man up," but it's not always as simple as plug-and-play.
"I'd say at the receiver position, especially for receiver-quarterback, it's time on task," Brees said. "It's that rhythm, it's that trust, it's that familiarity with both them running the route and the timing and the rhythm of it, and then me seeing it, me being able to anticipate it.
"There's so much that goes into the execution of the passing game, or the precision of the passing game. That takes time. Even when you've got multiple guys on the field – they're all working in concert, they're all working together, and there's a timing and a rhythm to how you're working through your progression and all those things."
Still, Brees said the Saints are close to being where they want to be.
"We're a few plays away, I'd say on both sides of the ball," he said. "And that's usually the way it is, especially early on in a season. You're still trying to find your rhythm and it's unfortunate that that becomes a little more glaring because of the losses. Plenty of times, early in the season you're still working your way through things but you're finding ways to win games.
"I think at the end of the day, you just have to recognize what wins and loses. I can think of one play on offense and one play on defense that I'm sure would have been a huge difference in that game the other night (against Green Bay). If you can win the majority of them, and if you can do the things that you know result in winning football, I think your percentages go way up. It's as simple as that."