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Receiver Michael Thomas' return highlights New Orleans Saints first training camp practice

'It was a blessing to be back out there with the guys, being able to put my hand in the pile'


Even though Michael Thomas was listed on the physically unable to perform list Tuesday, the day before the New Orleans Saints' first training camp practice, the belief was that the star receiver soon would be off the list.

Is Wednesday soon enough?

Thomas was removed from the PUP list and on the field participating in elements of practice (not team drills) on the first day, running smoothly and showing no sign of favoring the surgically repaired left ankle that hampered his 2020 season (seven mostly injury-plagued games) and obliterated his 2021 season (missed the entire season).

"I'm kind of lost for words," said Thomas, who caught an NFL-record 149 passes for a franchise-record 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns in 2019, when he was NFL Offensive Player of the Year. "I didn't want to come up here (in front of media) and get emotional or anything.

"But it was a blessing to be back out there with the guys, being able to put my hand in the pile and just be out there to perfect my craft and compete and encourage guys and get ready to help D.A. (Coach Dennis Allen) win some games."

And, likely, few were more excited about Thomas' return than Allen.

"I thought he looked good," Allen said. "It's part of the process. This was part of our design, hoping that he would be in a position to be able to do that. He was. I think we've still got to be smart with him as we go throughout training camp, but I thought it was a good start to have him out there on the first day. I was excited about seeing No. 13 walk out on the field.

"I think he was excited. Mike Thomas wants to be out here. He wants to help this team win games, and that's his whole mind-set and his whole purpose, and he's extremely driven to be able to do that. And I think this is a good step in the right direction. We've still got some things we've got to get accomplished, but it was good to get him out here on the first day."

Thomas elevates a receivers' room that has been boosted by the offseason additions of Jarvis Landry (unrestricted free agent) and Chris Olave (first-round draft pick). And he will help elevate an offense that will be triggered by quarterback Jameis Winston, who enters training camp this year as the unquestioned starter.

Winston, too, is rebounding from an injury (torn left ACL) and said that experience helped him bond with Thomas.

"We were in similar situations," Winston said. "We wanted to be playing and we couldn't play last year. So I think that parallel relationship helped us grow together. We were on the same page. And now, it's just time to go out there and ball together. He's worked his tail off, now we've got the opportunity. We're all in house, so let's do it.

"We are ultimate competitors. He's a perfectionist, and that helps my game because I can put my trust in him and he can put his trust in me because we know that we're all in. I know he's one of the greatest receivers to play this game as of this date, and he's missed two years. The facts don't lie. So I know what he's capable of.

"Now, we've both just got to get healthy and work together. We've got to build that rapport, and that's going to happen, with this experience, with him being able to be out there and do as much as he did, and me just being able to see him and work with him."

There's no debate that Thomas will be up for the grind. His work ethic has been described as borderline maniacal, a player who competes as if every rep is a game rep and abhors sitting for any reason.

"I'm always up for a good challenge," he said. "I feel in life, you're going to run into some challenges, you're going to run into some adversity. But I always was taught it's about how you respond, how you come out on the other end. And I took pride in that challenge.

"I'm still working day to day, putting in a lot of work behind the scenes. Just stay consistent, stay honest with yourself. I love playing this game and just to be back out here is a blessing. Just keep putting my foot forward and keep coming out here and competing and getting better.

"Sometimes there were some ups and downs. I feel like I took the challenge head on and I feel like, I'm here now and I'm ready to keep getting better and excelling my game."

Thomas, who first had to pass a series of tests Wednesday morning before he was allowed to practice, said he knew the drills Tuesday night and knew he'd be successful.

"Me and D.A., we had a meeting yesterday, (Executive Vice President/General Manager) Mickey (Loomis), they told me what they were expecting for me to do, what they need out of me and what they needed to see," Thomas said. "So we had a workout in the morning, they wanted to see how I moved, and I passed my test and they allowed me to come off PUP."

That process completed, Thomas now can concentrate on returning to form after a surgical and rehabilitation process that has been arduous. He said he first opted to accept a medical opinion that the ankle could return to form with rehab in time for last season, but when that option failed, he required two surgeries to correct the issue.

"I believe everything has gone like it's supposed to go," he said. "The surgery process, it's opinion based and sometimes people don't get things right, unfortunately. So sometimes you have to know how to pivot and respond to situations like that. But I come from a strong family, I feel like I watched my family struggle way harder than what I'm going through. I know me being out there playing this game makes them proud, and I take a lot of pride in that.

"I know that everybody in this building wants me to be out there. I was always trying to get out there, it was just a matter of time when. I'm out here now and I'm ready to keep getting better and improving my game."

And proving another injection of juice for the Saints' offense.

"He's proven that he's one of the top receivers in our league when he's able to be healthy," Allen said. "And so, I think it's important to have him. He's another one of those weapons that we've kind of counted on and kind of planned for, so I think he is important to our team."

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