6 takeaways from the first day at Saints training camp

As NFL training camps kicked off around the league, the New Orleans Saints provided one of the biggest surprises with the return of All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas. Thomas was listed on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) less than a week ago, but found his way out to catching passes. While that story takes the cake for biggest surprise, here are several key observations from camp day one.

Biggest Story: Michael Thomas' return

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

This was clearly the biggest news out of camp today. Seeing Thomas out on the field wasn’t a major surprise. You can be present at camp, but can’t participate while on the PUP list. However, once he lined up to run a route and caught a pass, it didn’t take long for the surprise to sink in.

Seeing No. 13 taking reps during drills (he didn’t participate in team drills) is about as big of a story you’ll see this offseason. Head coach Dennis Allen said that he and Thomas met Wednesday morning to get a feel of whether or not he was ready to go. The results of that meeting must have been encouraging considering the work he was able to get in.

The Saints receiver took the field with no noticeable limp, no tape on his legs, nothing that seemed to limit him in anyway. He’ll continue to progress, of course, and it’s hard to expect anything different on his first football action since the 2020 playoffs. But one thing’s for certain, he’s clearly happy to be back.

Thomas expressed his excitement to be back out on the field with his team, building a connection with Jameis Winston, and helping his team win. We’ll see how he continues to progress and how quickly he gets involved in 11-on11 drills. but for day one, it was a massive step forward for the Saints and Thomas.

Jameis Winston update: Moving well

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this offseason, Winston described some things he still couldn’t do as he continued his recovery process. Namely throwing on the run and bootleg action. That limitation looked to be out of the way on Wednesday as Winston moved fluidly, without the limp heard ’round the world. A sign of continued progress and great news for Winston and the Saints.

He also got to take advantage of the return of Thomas, who will be his No. 1 receiver in 2022. A far venture from his group in 2021. Winston expressed his excitement working with not only Thomas, but his band of receivers from multiple positions. It’s clear that the incumbent starter is ready to get back out on the field with his team Week 1. He’s even vowed not to cut his hair until then.

Attendance: Pete Werner did not participate, but was present

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Players not spotted during today’s practice:

  • LB Pete Werner (sidework)

  • WR/RS Rashid Shaheed (Present, but on NFI list)

  • S Tyrann Mathieu (excused)

  • Tanoh Kpassagnon (NFI – illness)

With the return of Thomas, there were some other standout attendance notes as well. Allen updated that Werner’s absence was injury-related, but he doesn’t expect that the second-year linebacker will miss much time at all. Shaheed was present, but not participating as he continues to work his way back.

Mathieu’s name might look shocking, but he’s excused for the time being for a private family matter. Kpassagnon was noted by general manager Mickey Loomis as being out with illness.

Other players returning from injury that got work in included QB Jameis Winston, LG Andrus Peat, RT Ryan Ramczyk, TE Taysom Hill, and DE Payton Turner.

Standout player: Taysom Hill shines

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

There were a lot of curiosities around Hill heading into Saints camp. What would his role be? How quickly will he acclimate? When will he be healthy enough to be out on the field? A lot of those questions were answered on Wednesday.

Hill took snaps all around the offense (sans quarterback) and looked to sink in comfortably as a pass-catcher. He got some work in the blocking game as well. Hill is now considered a part of the tight end room, a role that he filled well early in the 2021 season. His usage is expected to be much the same as we’ve seen in the past, but with a focus at pass-catcher.

One play that almost ended in an interception sort of showcases what Hill brings to the offense. He ran a route while covered by a linebacker down the right sideline, beating his defender by multiple steps. His move drew the coverage of a safety (C.J. Gardner-Johsnon) over the top. QB Andy Dalton underthrew his attempt a bit which led to the pass being batted up and a dropped interception by Gardner-Johnson.

But one can see from that play, beating a linebacker and drawing a safety’s attention, exactly how impactful Hill can be in this deployment. Especially when on the field with Thomas, Jarvis Landry, and Chris Olave.

Play of the day: Payton Turner shows out

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

My play of the day is one that could easily fly under the radar. It wasn’t a big pass downfield, a catch-and run, or a one-handed grab. It was the sheer force with which second-year edge rusher displayed on the final play of team drills as a he bulled his way past (not through) the offensive line to secure a would-be sack on QB Ian Book.

Turner’s return from injury was one that was much celebrated, and it’s easy to see why. When healthy, he’s massively disruptive. His combination of length and athleticism are unmistakeable. He put that on full display on a couple of plays on Wednesday. He still has some rust to knock off in his return. But all signs are looking good thus far.

Position battles: Hurst gets the start at LT

AP Photo/Derick Hingle

Two position battles of note had moments in the spotlight today. First, veteran offensive lineman James Hurst took first team snaps at left tackle for the team while Trevor Penning worked with other units. Penning looks like he’s focusing strictly at left tackle, which is a good sign. Let tackles play tackle, I always say.

As for the cornerback spot opposite Marshon Lattimore, this battle drew light as soon as Alontae Taylor was drafted in the second round of this year’s NFL draft. But Paulson Adebo did a good job reminding onlookers that “CB2” is his spot to lose.

During team drills, Kevin White ran a hitch route on the right side, Winston fired a pass to him which Adebo adeptly stepped in front of and batted away. Adebo had three interceptions his rookie season including a huge red zone takeaway in his first NFL action against Aaron Rodger and the Green Bay Packers. Since then, he never relinquished the starting role. A trend he’s intent on maintaining going into year two.

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire