Saints WR Thomas participates in 11-on-11 drills

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Beyond the Box: Top 5 WR in the NFL
Beyond the Box: Top 5 WR in the NFL

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas took the next step in his return to football on Saturday.

Thomas participated in 11-on-11 drills for the first time since the end of the 2020 season, continuing a ramp-up process that has been underway since the offseason began. Thomas was only a spectator at OTAs in June, but he was able to practice on Day 1 of training camp and returned to 7-on-7 drills Wednesday.

So far, all signs have been positive that he has recovered from the left ankle injury, which required surgery to repair a torn deltoid and other damaged ligaments. Thomas has not been at 100 percent since being injured in the 2020 season opener and has not been a full participant in practice since the end of that season.

Thomas missed the 2021 offseason after undergoing ankle surgery and did not return to play in the regular season last year after a midseason setback.

Saints coach Dennis Allen said Friday that Thomas’ return to team practice was coming “soon,” something he joked about Saturday.

“I told you it would come sooner rather than later right?” I was joking.

Allen said Saturday was a good day for Thomas to build confidence in the strength of his ankle.

“Honestly, there were a few times he ended up on the ground,” Allen said. “It’s all part of the process of building that confidence. I think he’s in a good mindset right now, I think he looks good physically. I’m excited to see where he’s at.”

Thomas began the first set of team drills Saturday with a pass from quarterback Jameis Winston, and later tried to make a sideline grab from Winston that was broken up by cornerback Paulson Adebo. He caught another pass from Winston that was fumbled and recovered by safety Tyrann Mathieu, who also returned to full team practice for the first time Saturday after missing the start of camp for personal reasons.

Thomas finished his day with a catch from third-team quarterback Ian Book.

“We’ve kind of held the reins back on him, our decision more than it’s been his. It’s part of the ramp-up process and we’re going to continue to ramp him up,” Allen said of Mathieu, who returned to training Wednesday.

It’s been a positive few days for Thomas, who made a statement Wednesday by going 3-for-3 in his return to 7-on-7 work. He has also looked sharp in one-on-one work against defensive backs. It is unknown whether Mathieu or Thomas will play in the Saints’ first preseason game against the Texans on Aug. 13.

A surprise absence from practice was linebacker Kiko Alonso, who has decided to retire, according to a source. Ready to return to football after a two-year absence, Alonso signed with Saints on Friday, also taking part in today’s training session.

He was fully recovered from a torn ACL sustained with the Saints at the end of the 2019 season, but changed his mind about a comeback and opted to remain retired instead. He is retiring after six seasons and 86 games in the NFL with the Bills, Eagles, Dolphins and Saints.

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