Two years of frustration for Michael Thomas is almost behind him

·4 min read

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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Michael Thomas, Tyrann Mathieu both questionable on final Saints injury report vs. Falcons

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire