Saints receiver Thomas back at practice after 2 missed games

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Saints top receiver Michael Thomas returned to practice on Wednesday for the first time since injuring his ankle in New Orleans’ season-opening victory over Tampa Bay on Sept. 13.

While Saints coach Sean Payton has yet to say if Thomas is on schedule to play this Sunday at Detroit, the fifth-year receiver ran through drills with a noticeable bounce in his step during the brief portion of practice open to reporters.

When he was running passing routes, Thomas sprinted off the line of scrimmage and cut hard laterally in either direction. In between, he often danced to the music amplified throughout the Saints’ indoor field.

“He looked good. He looked really good,” quarterback Drew Brees said after practice. “He’s a guy who has never missed time, who is always fighting through things throughout the season, but, man, such a tough guy and a great competitor.

“So, (it’s) great to get him back,” Brees continued. “We’ll see what that role is and go from there.”

Officially, Thomas was listed as limited in practice.

“He’s been itching to play. If it was up to him, he would have tried to play the last two weeks,” Saints running back Alvin Kamara said. “He looked good out there, so hopefully he feels ready enough to play.”

The Saints have lost both games Thomas has missed, falling to 1-2 and into second place in the NFC South Division, which New Orleans is trying to win for a fourth straight season.

“Obviously his presence is a difference because at any moment he can make big plays and he’s obviously a featured guy,” said Brees, who has posted the two best single-season completion rates in NFL history — 74.4% and 74.3% — during Thomas’ two All-Pro seasons in 2018 and 2019.

Thomas set an NFL single-season record in 2019 with 149 catches. His 1,725 yards receiving led the Saints last season, while his nine touchdowns receiving tied for the team lead with Kamara.

That kind of production can be difficult to replicate when Thomas leaves the lineup, particularly in the short term, Brees explained.

“It’ time on task,” Brees said. “It’s that rhythm. It’s that trust, just that familiarity.”

Thomas’ injury occurred when running back Latavius Murray was tackled into the back of his lower legs by Tampa Bay defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr. late in the fourth quarter of the Saints’ 34-23 victory in Week 1.

Before the injury, Thomas had just three catches, his fewest in a game since the fifth game of the 2017 season, which was also a career single-game low.

Thomas was not among selected players available for media interviews via video conference on Wednesday.

Two other starters did not practice: tight end Jared Cook, who injured his groin during a loss to Green Bay on Sunday night, and left guard Andrus Peat, who sprained his ankle in that game when Kamara was tackled into the back of his lower legs.

Defensive tackle David Onyemata (calf) and linebacker Chase Hansen (hip) also returned to practice on a limited basis after missing Sunday night’s game. Hanson also did not play in Week 2.

Defensive end Marcus Davenport continued to practice on a limited basis as he comes back from an elbow injury that has sidelined him the first three games. Cornerback Marshon Lattimore was limited because of a sore hamstring.

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