You won’t have to worry about Michael Thomas losing track of the accelerator, even after having signed a contract extension to remain with the New Orleans Saints.
He never takes his foot off it.
So on his first day of training camp this year – after missing the first five practices while his representatives and Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis ironed out the details of the five-year extension – the record-setting receiver literally hit the ground running.
“He’s an important part of what we do offensively,” Coach Sean Payton said Thursday, Aug. 1. “He’s experienced. I felt real positive. I knew Mike was going to come in in good shape. It’s good to have him back, it’s good to see him out there moving around.
“You don’t run into these situations like you might have eight, 10 years ago where you might go five, six, seven days with your rookie first-round pick (holding out). That’s kind of changed now with the slot system. But it was good to get it done and get him out here. Obviously, we’re preparing. There’s a lot that we’re doing right now, so there’s always that sense of urgency.”
Thomas made a couple of acrobatic catches in his first practice, worked on the JUGS machine after practice (one-handed grabs) and very much looked the part of difference-making offensive player. He holds the NFL record for catches in his first three seasons (321) and set franchise single-season records for receptions (125) and receiving yards (1,405) last season.
“We all know what Mike brings to the table,” left tackle Terron Armstead said. “His energy, his work ethic is contagious.”
That’s the fever that warmed Thomas during his six-day absence, and he was eager to get back to work.
“Just missing those reps, competing against my teammates knowing that if I win, the guy across me got better or if he wins, then I got better, and there’s ways to coach off of that,” he said. “So just the development and becoming a better player.”
Thomas said he kept track of the Saints partly via social media, tracking what was happening in his absence.
“Looking at Twitter, seeing who was making plays, checking you guys’ highlight, and watching the film in our archives and stuff like that,” he said. “The first couple of days, I guess it was easier and then as it kept going on, you kind of felt like days turned into weeks. So you just want to be out here. We have an excellent goal to be the last team standing and play for a championship.”
Thomas worked out in San Diego, and simply couldn’t replicate the kind of competition he knew he’d face at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center.
“For the most part, as much as I could,” Thomas said of creating a competitive environment. “But it’s a lot different when you’re out here competing against another hungry opponent.”
They won’t be any hungrier than Thomas, even though contractually, the former second-round pick now is well fed.
“I feel like I’ve been earning it and that’s what I’m going to continue to do,” he said. “That’s how I approach the game: I set high goals and I want to live up to them. I feel like you can’t really find out about a person from a Q and A or maybe watching my practices, you’ve got to really know the person.
“But I know deep down in my heart, in my gut, that I love playing this game, I love competing. And I feel like I compete with the best.”
If those doubts existed, they long ago were quieted by Thomas, the No. 47 overall pick 2016.
“I think he’s a strong target in traffic,” Payton said. “He’s one of those guys that has a good radius for the quarterback. He’s a guy that really works at his craft relative to the whole week leading up to the game. But his strength is run after the catch. Those are all things that I think he does very well.”