The New Orleans Saints were defeated by the San Francisco 49ers in a playoff game on January 14, marking a disappointing end to the 2011 season. As a New Orleans fan, I immediately felt a shift in the game's momentum when Saints running back Pierre Thomas was injured. Seemingly just another piece in the team's high-powered offense, Thomas is actually crucial to the Saints' success. After three preseason games in 2012, Thomas has looked great, and I am hoping to see him help New Orleans return to the playoffs this year.
Thomas is never mentioned among the elite running backs in the NFL. He has never had a 1,000-yard season or made the Pro Bowl. His career highs of 147 carries and 793 rushing yards came in 2009, the season when the Saints won the Super Bowl.
Still, Thomas's presence adds stability to the team. He provides the offense with another weapon, not only as a runner, but also as a receiver. He caught 50 passes for 425 yards last year, giving him 987 total yards for the season. Furthermore, Thomas is consistent as a running back and has averaged 4.8 yards per attempt over his five-year career.
Now Thomas appears to be determined. In the 2012 preseason he has 40 rushing yards on five attempts, good for an eight-yard average, while catching four passes for another 61 yards. Most importantly, Thomas has clearly stood out within a crowded backfield that also contains Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram, Chris Ivory and rookie Travaris Cadet.
With Sproles sitting out against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Friday, August 17, Thomas had an excellent game. He carried twice for 10 yards and added two receptions for 40 yards in a rare starting opportunity. While he has only started 22 regular season games in his career, Thomas clearly could fill a top rushing role on a number of NFL teams.
Like the Saints' last playoff game showed, I believe that a healthy Pierre Thomas increases the chances of the team achieving success. It is not a coincidence that New Orleans won its first Super Bowl when Thomas had his best season. If the current preseason is any indication, he could now help his team return to the postseason in 2012.
Mike Patton is a sports fan who grew up in New Orleans cheering for the New Orleans Saints, Chicago Cubs, and LSU Tigers. As a kid in 1987, he made his first trip to Wrigley Field and also slept outside of the Louisiana Superdome to purchase playoff tickets for the Saints' first postseason appearance. Follow Mike on twitter @MikePattonGBS.