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Receiver Michael Thomas' value to New Orleans Saints has been glaring in his presence, and absence

'I'm not really thinking of where I'm at as an individual, just thinking about how we look as an offense, how we're operating, how am I playing to factor into that'

Day 16 of 2023 New Orleans Saints Training Camp Presented by Rouses at Jack Hammett Sports Complex in Costa Mesa, California.

Costa Mesa, Calif. – Michael Thomas has said it so many times it maybe sounds disingenuous and cliché, but it's still odd to hear the New Orleans Saints receiver say he's trying to add value to the offense, as he did again after Thursday's joint practice against the Chargers at Jack Hammett Sports Complex.

Thomas' value pretty much is glaring.

In his first four seasons, when he was on the kind of record-setting pace that made it a matter of "when," not "if," he would shatter franchise receiving records, he caught 470 passes for 5,512 yards and 32 touchdowns as the Saints won NFC South Division titles from 2017-19, and the two-time All-Pro (2018-19) and three-time Pro Bowler (2017-19) was NFL Offensive Player of the Year after erupting for an NFL-record 149 catches for 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns in 2019.

And then, even as he missed 40 of the team's 50 regular-season games from 2020-22 with ankle and toe injuries, he still managed to show his worth when available – a five-catch, 57-yard, two-touchdown performance against Atlanta last year in the season opener was the backbone of a 27-26 comeback victory.

Thomas' aura is unquestioned, which is why the caveat of "If Michael Thomas is healthy" exists with regard to how effective the Saints offense can be.

"Honestly, I'm just taking coaching and being here," he said. "Right now, I'm just focused on helping the team move the ball and add value, and be there when the quarterback needs me.

"Right now, I'm not really thinking of where I'm at as an individual, just thinking about how we look as an offense, how we're operating, how am I playing to factor into that. And just doing my job at 100 percent."

Thomas said previously he's not quite back to 100 percent. Winning three of four one-on-one reps against the Chargers seemed to suggest otherwise.

"If he's not back where he was – obviously, coming off injury and all that kind of stuff – that would make sense," quarterback Derek Carr said. "But he's still a heck of a football player, because I don't know any different.

"From what I've seen, he looks like Mike Thomas. I keep saying that, because that was my expectation when I got here. He plays violently, he's strong at the catch point, he's able to separate and he's a great competitor. For me, what I expected out of Mike Thomas, I've seen."

Is that what Thomas has seen of himself, as he more consistently has begun to beat defensive backs and make catches?

"I feel like that's my job description, that's what I do," he said. "So I enjoy doing that, but I'm always trying to perfect my craft and create that type of chemistry that I've had previously with guys like (former Saints quarterback) Drew (Brees), and that relationship.

"We're here to win games, and we're here to try to win all the games, so honestly, whatever I can do and whenever my number is called to do that, I'm here to do that. That's what I'm most excited about."

BRINGING OUT THE BEST: During Saints vs. Saints practice in training camp, Thomas often has been seen calling for top cornerback Marshon Lattimore to cover him in one-on-one and seven-on-seven drills. There's a simple reason for that. "That's the type of rep that keeps you honest, that's the type of rep that makes you think and have a plan at the line, that's the type of rep that makes you want to go hard," Thomas said. "That's a game rep. That's how you maximize the period, is by going against the best and competing at a high level."

Full coverage of the New Orleans Saints workouts during 2023 Training Camp presented by Rouses Markets on Thursday, August 17.

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