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Receiver Michael Thomas ready to pick up where he left off, and add to it, for New Orleans Saints

'I feel like the good thing about this game is you can put it on display on Sunday, and I can't wait to put it on display'


Michael Thomas says there's more.

Plenty more.

So on Wednesday, in the New Orleans Saints' locker room during media availability, when the receiver said, "I'm trying to top that," and he was talking about his record-setting 2019 season, it was a mouthful, as the Saints prepare for the regular-season opener against the Falcons in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday in Atlanta.

Thomas barely registers the 2020 and '21 seasons. He missed all of '21 with ankle issues that stemmed from '20, when he played in seven games with five starts, but clearly wasn't the Michael Thomas who punished defenses in his first four NFL seasons, to the tune of 470 catches for 5,512 yards and 32 touchdowns, culminating with an NFL-record 149 catches for a team-record 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns in 2019, when he was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year.

"At the end of the day, the one thing I've learned is that the game does not change," Thomas said. "There might be new players that come in, there might be new coaches, the game doesn't change.

"It's all about creating separation, getting open, making the play, competing, being physical, and those things I take pride in. Those things I work on every day, so I like my chances when the ball comes or when my number is called, making that play and taking advantage of every opportunity. Just being locked in, I feel like the sky is the limit.

"I feel like, I don't want to give anything away, I just want to keep doing what I'm doing. I believe in my talent, I just believe in myself. I believe in my game, I believe in my craft. I feel like the good thing about this game is you can put it on display on Sunday, and I can't wait to put it on display."

Thomas was limited in practice Wednesday as he recovers from a hamstring injury, but during the portion of practice that the media was able to see, looked full speed in those drills.

"He looked good," Coach Dennis Allen said. "We're working him back in, we'll see where we're at. But another positive step trying to get him back out here."

"We'll find out (about Sunday's availability)," Thomas said, smiling. "I mean, I feel like, that's the goal. I feel great, I think I had a great weekday. Coach preaches about winning the week day by day, so I think I can think about Wednesday and look forward to coming out here thinking of Thursday."

Teammates, meanwhile, can begin to think about what it means to have Thomas in the huddle for the first time since Jan. 17, 2021, when New Orleans lost to Tampa Bay in their NFC Divisional playoff game.

"We're excited to have him back," said quarterback Jameis Winston, who, as a first-year starter with the Saints last season, never had an opportunity to throw to Thomas before suffering his own season-ending injury in Game 7, against Tampa Bay. "He's been on a long journey, but one thing I've always admired about Mike is the competitor and the resilience that he possesses. I think that's what makes him as elite as he is, and he is among the elite."

And the 6-foot-3, 212-pounder isn't masking his joy about being back to what he loves doing.

"I'm so excited," he said. "That's what I love to do. I love football, I love coming out here competing, I love working on my game, I love taking coaching and trying to collaborate with my coaches and find ways to do something better and create separation and just make highlights and perfect my craft. I had weeks where I felt like I was close to going in the game, but then I wasn't able to go in the game, just dealing with the injury or whatever. Now it's just like, I'm itching for it."

It will be the reward for the countless hours dedicated to coming back without missing a beat.

"Man. I'm still putting them in," said Thomas, a renowned workaholic. "I have an addiction for that. I have an addiction for improvement, for finding a way to improve, finding a way to get better, finding a way to get better when no one is looking.

"I feel like that's always been my nature and my thing that's allowed me to reach and have success in this league. At all levels, from college to the NFL, I've always been a guy that's put in work behind the scenes. I had to do a lot of that. I feel like that always pays off in games so as long as I just keep doing that, putting in the work, the sky is still the limit."

NOTES: Notably missing from practice on Wednesday was cornerback Paulson Adebo, who has been nursing an ankle injury sustained prior to the final preseason game against the Chargers on Aug. 26. Also not practicing was offensive tackle Landon Young (hip), leaving undrafted rookie Lewis Kidd potentially as the backup swing tackle for the season opener. Kidd played right tackle in the preseason. Running back Mark Ingram, left tackle James Hurst and safety Marcus Maye all practiced.

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