Two years of frustration for Michael Thomas is almost behind him

Two years of frustration for Michael Thomas is almost behind him. He may be officially questionable, but our @RossJacksonNOLA would be stunned to see him sidelined on Sunday:

On Sunday, the New Orleans Saints will kick off their highly-anticipated 2022 regular season by traveling to take on the Atlanta Falcons. A focal point for that return to the gridiron will be the wide receiver corps the Saints will march out. Over the offseason, New Orleans has completely revamped its wide receiver room with the additions of veteran free agent Jarvis Landry and rookie sensation Chris Olave.

The proverbial cherry on top should be the return of All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas. While he was listed as questionable on Friday’s final injury report, all signs seem to point to the record-breaking wide receiver making his long-awaited return against the division-rival Falcons. As with all injuries, a veil of uncertainty lingers over Thomas’ hamstring issue which has kept him off the field since the Saints’ open practice in the Caesars Superdome on Aug. 22. But if Thomas does not make his return Sunday afternoon, I would be astonished. Bewildered, even.

Thomas discussed the long road of recovery from his injury when he surprised us all the first time this offseason by participating in the team’s first training camp practice. “You’re going to run into some adversity,” Thomas told New Orleans media. “I always was taught it’s about how you respond, how you come out on the other end. I took pride in that challenge.”

The road to returning has not been easy for Thomas. Following the opening-game ankle injury nearly two years ago (two days shy of the exact date), there were differing opinions of the ailment’s severity and best path toward recovery. Unfortunately, the opinion Thomas received that he could move forward without surgery did not come to fruition, instead leading to a late surgery that landed him on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list ahead of the 2021 season. That surgery had complications which led to a corrective procedure, and ended his 2021 campaign before it could even begin. Thomas shared his reasoning at length:

“When you go to a doctor to get an opinion, the doctor is going to give you an opinion. You go to two doctors, one person has an opinion, another person has an opinion. You have the right to pick an opinion. So if one of the opinions is ‘You can rehab your ankle and it should be good by camp.’ and I’ve never had surgery, then I’m going to stick with that one. If that one doesn’t work, then I’m going to go with the second one. And that’s pretty much how it worked.”

The wideout fought through the injury throughout the 2020 season but now has not taken a snap since Jan. 17, 2021, the Saints’ playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Some have argued that means there is no way for Thomas to return to his 2019 level of production. But that seems a little short-sighted. Is that even what the Saints are looking for from the elite pass-catcher?

While Thomas told us that he’s “Trying to top that,” when it comes to his NFL-record 149 receptions in 2019, it’s not necessary he does so. If the Saints got even just his 2016 rookie  production of 92 catches for 1,137 receiving yards and 9 touchdown catches, they will be in a great place on offense. With the additions of Landry and Olave, there are a lot more mouths for quarterback Jameis Winston and offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael to feed this year. But despite those new weapons, Winston knows what he needs to do when Thomas is on the field.

“I think, when you have an elite receiver like Mike,” Winston told me. “Just get him the ball. Put the ball around him ad he’s going to make plays.” That type of trust will only deepen between the quarterback and receiver as the season goes along. If the two produce in the process, it should lead to more than just good vibes in New Orleans. It should lead to wins.

Thomas was visibly happy this week as we wandered through the locker rooms during open media availability. That happiness was hard to ignore while he was speaking to media as well. First at his locker before casually sitting on the countertops in the middle of the room, taking questions from reporters.

“That’s the goal,” Thomas said of playing this weekend in Atlanta. There has just simply been nothing about his demeanor that suggests he’s received any bad news this week, despite being officially limited on the injury report and questionable for Sunday’s game. Follow that up with the open practice windows wherein Thomas looked to be moving well, cutting violently and not holding back on his drill reps, and there’s too much evidence to eschew optimism.

Despite some pessimism scattered about, things look to be headed in the right direction for Winston, Carmichael and the Saints to have their full complement of receivers tomorrow, The quarterback and receiver duo has only a handful of passing attempts between them, stemming back to the 2020 matchup with the San Francisco 49ers when Drew Brees was injured and Winston led the second half. If Thomas takes the field on Sunday, as I and many anticipate, they should quickly surpass that, possibly even in catches rather than attempts.

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Report: Michael Thomas expected to play vs. Falcons in Week 1

Report: Saints’ Michael Thomas expected to play against the Falcons in Week 1

Here’s cause for optimism. The New Orleans Saints still need to navigate a week of practice before kickoff with the Atlanta Falcons, but NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports that they’ll have star wide receiver Michael Thomas making his long-awaited return at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday. Rapoport shared what he’s learned during a Tuesday appearance on the “Pat McAfee Show.”

“So I believe Michael Thomas will go, and we’ve talked about that before,” Rapoport said, interrupted by McAfee exclaiming that “it’s a big deal.” Rapoport agreed and continued, “I think it’s a big deal, Dennis Allen kind of said it. I think he’s gonna go and I think he’s gonna be really good. I drafted him on my fantasy team, so if he was really good that would be really great.”

Thomas has been sidelined for most of the last two years with a complicated ankle injury, which didn’t respond well to surgery late last summer. Friction between the player and team has been smoothed over under Allen’s management, and he was enjoying a productive training camp until a hamstring injury suffered in practice against the Green Bay Packers prompted the Saints to put him on ice. Now that he’s well-rested and getting back up to speed, it sounds like Thomas is set for a triumphant return in Week 1. But we’ll wait and see what Wednesday’s initial injury report has to say.

They’ll need him, if he’s in the clear. Jameis Winston hasn’t completed a pass to Thomas before in his NFL career, and having Thomas resembling anything close to his old self would be huge for new arrivals like Jarvis Landry and Chris Olave. When he’s been at his best, Thomas has demanded attention from defenses and made life easier on everyone around him. Without Sean Payton and Drew Brees at the helm, it would sure be reassuring to see Thomas bullying opponents like fans grew used to watching in his heyday.

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Jameis Winston joins team drills and more key takeaways from Saints’ Aug. 22 practice

Saints QB Jameis Winston took team drill snaps today, marking a big milestone in his return to action. Key takeaways from Monday’s practice, via @RossJacksonNOLA:

As the New Orleans Saints returned to their home facility Monday on Airline Drive, they also returned to familiar ways. The defense again dominated the day. Star players like defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson and linebacker Demario Davis made plays and barked loudly and consistently at the offense throughout practice. The intensity of the day was driven by that unit. Here are our key takeaways from Monday’s practice, including those highlight defensive moments, but a very important step forward for the offense by quarterback Jameis Winston.

Jameis Winston progresses and key takeaways from the Saints Superdome practice

Michael Thomas was out with an injury, but Jameis Winston took a big step forward during the Saints’ open practice in the Superdome, via @RossJacksonNOLA:

Funny how much a change of venue shifts the feeling of a training camp practice. What otherwise would have been a lighter day for the New Orleans Saints as they return home following their preseason loss to the Green Bay Packers, felt monumental in front of 30,000 claimed tickets. Attendance became the early highlight of the day, but as the two-hour event rolled along more and more caught our attention. Here are our takeaways from the Saints’ open practice in the Caesars Superdome.

Dennis Allen: Michael Thomas missed final training camp practice with hamstring injury

Dennis Allen says Michael Thomas missed the final Saints training camp practice with a new injury, describing it as a “little bit of a hamstring”

There’s been a hiccup in Michael Thomas’s journey back from an injury that’s cost him most of two seasons, with New Orleans Saints coach Dennis Allen saying Sunday evening that the All-Pro wide receiver missed the team’s final training camp practice with what he described as “a little bit of a hamstring.”

When this new injury occurred isn’t clear — Thomas participated fully in two joint practices with the Green Bay Packers last week, but sat out of their Friday night preseason game alongside a small crowd of other veteran players. Sunday’s session in the Caesars Superdome was the final practice of Saints training camp.

Thomas has been recovering from an ankle injury, but it isn’t immediately clear if this issue is affecting the same leg. Whether or not that’s the case, hamstring injuries can linger, and it’s wise of the team to play it safe with someone expected to shoulder a heavy load this season. It’s been an impressive camp for Thomas so far. He was our pick as the team’s best player of the summer, rapidly improving until this setback. Hopefully he can return sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, the Saints have seen their investments pay off with maybe the strongest receiving corps in recent memory: those behind Thomas on the depth chart include roster locks like Jarvis Landry, Chris Olave, and Deonte Harty and good players on the roster bubble such as Tre’Quan Smith, Marquez Callaway, Kirk Merritt, and Kevin White. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see other teams poach Kawaan Baker, Dai’Jean Dixon, and Rashid Shaheed should they hit the waiver wire, either.

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Offense coming back to life: 10 takeaways from Saints-Packers practice on Aug. 17

Chris Olave, Lucas Krull, and the Saints offense looked to get back into rhythm during the second day of joint practices with the Packers. 10 takeaways, via @RossJacksonNOLA:

The defenses of the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers will continue to be the topic of major conversation when it comes to the joint practices across the street from Lambeau Field. However, on Wednesday, while both offenses struggled for the majority of practice, some of the stars and big names found ways to show out. Here are our key takeaways from Wednesday’s joint practice with the Packers:

Saints defense bounces back and more takeaways from Day 14 of training camp

Tyrann Mathieu and the Saints defense bounced back in training camp Day 14, via @RossJacksonNOLA

After a day dominated by the New Orleans Saints offense, Demario Davis and the defense responded very well on Thursday. This was the team’s final practice before their first preseason matchup on Saturday in Houston. As they prepared for the Texans, and by extension the NFL regular season, New Orleans proved it still has the talent to be a wining team led by a strong defense. Here are our observations from Day 14 at Saints training camp.

Michael Thomas dominates again in Day 13 of Saints training camp

Michael Thomas produces more highlights in Day 13 of Saints training camp and more important takeaways, via @RossJacksonNOLA:

The goal for New Orleans Saints training camp Day 13 was to watch some of the guys that will get real opportunities in this weekend’s Houston Texans matchup. But it’s hard to do that when a superstar just keeps making big plays. In front of the fans and in full pads, Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas dazzled yet again. Here are some of his highlights and more key observations from today’s practice:

Andy Dalton leads the way with Jameis Winston out during Day 12 of Saints camp

With Jameis Winston out, Andy Dalton led the way for Saints camp Day 12, here are our takeaways, via @RossJacksonNOLA:

Back to shorts, shells, and indoor facilities for Day 12 of New Orleans Saints camp. It was a little bit of a different feel in the building today with quarterback Jameis Winston sidelined with an injury. Andy Dalton jumped in to take those first team snaps while backup Ian Book saw a larger share of reps himself. Despite Winston not being a part of today’s workload, there were tons of things to take away from the practice session. Here are our key takeaways from today.

Jameis Winston leaves Saints camp early and more Day 11 Saints camp takeaways

Jameis Winston’s injury headlines our Day 11 Saints camp takeaways, via @RossJacksonNOLA:

With the New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans preseason game at the end of the week, anticipation was high coming into Day 11 of Saints camp, another padded practice. While there were some positive moments throughout, they will be overshadowed by the big news around starting quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston left practice early and head coach Dennis Allen provided what he could as an update. That’s where we start our takeaways and practice notes from the first day of training camp Week 3.