METAIRIE, La. — Michael Thomas was back on the practice field Wednesday for the first time in 18 months as the New Orleans Saints opened training camp, a huge development in the star receiver’s recovery from multiple ankle surgeries.
“Man, I’m kind of lost for words,” said Thomas, who also spoke to the media for the first time since the 2020 season. “I didn’t want to come up here and get emotional or anything. But it was a blessing to be back out there with the guys.”
Thomas, who had his most recent surgery in November, participated in every portion of practice except for full-team drills. He looked fluid and had no noticeable braces or wrapping around the left ankle that was originally injured in Week 1 of the 2020 season.
Neither Thomas nor coach Dennis Allen wanted to put a timetable on when the former NFL Offensive Player of the Year would be back to 100% health. But the 29-year-old said he is “very confident, very confident” that he will ultimately be back as good as ever.
He said he has talked to “probably anybody that had an ankle injury” during his recovery process — including fellow NFL standouts Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz and NBA star Stephen Curry.
“I mean, even the year that I played [a total of nine games in 2020], I was playing injured, and I was still kind of helping this team win games and move the chains. And I was clearly on one ankle,” Thomas said.
“I’m just happy to be trending now in the right direction and handling my business. … And I take pride in that challenge.”
A lot has happened with Thomas since that injury-plagued 2020 season.
First, he decided to delay surgery to repair the torn deltoid and other injured ligaments in his ankle until June of the 2021 offseason — which led to a contentious back-and-forth with the team.
Former Saints coach Sean Payton made it clear at the start of last year’s training camp that he was disappointed Thomas’ surgery hadn’t happened sooner. Then, after multiple reports in August suggested that Thomas was to blame for the delay, Thomas tweeted: “They tried to damage your reputation. You saved theirs by not telling your side of the story.”
At the time, Thomas also liked multiple posts that suggested the Saints urged him to play through his injury without surgery during the 2020 season and were blaming him for not being healthy.
Those tensions had been defused, however, according to sources, and Thomas was working toward a midseason return before he suffered a setback that required another surgery in November.
Thomas addressed some of that drama Wednesday, referencing people’s outside “opinions” that can’t be controlled and some “B.S.” that had been written about him.
“We can put [the 2021 surgery timetable] to rest right now,” Thomas said. “It’s pretty much like when you go to a doctor, you get 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. I don’t write the opinion, I just have to pick one.”
Thomas said he is also motivated by making his family proud and being there for his teammates.
“Everybody loves somebody that comes back from adversity. I feel like a lot of people in this world can learn from that,” Thomas said. “It’s better to have some adversity than not have some adversity, just to show how you respond. I think it shows a lot of character, it shows the type of man you are.
“And, I mean, I love playing football.”
Thomas and Allen said Thomas’ recovery timetable has gone as expected. Thomas spent all of OTAs and minicamp rehabbing at the Saints facility, as opposed to last year.
“I thought he looked good,” Allen said. “I think we’ve still got to be smart with him as we go throughout training camp. But I thought it was a good start, having him out there on the first day. I was excited about seeing No. 13 walk out on the field.
“Listen, Mike Thomas wants to be out here. He wants to help this team win games. And that’s his whole mindset and his whole purpose. And he’s extremely driven to do that. And I think this was a good step in the right direction.”
Among other positive injury developments for the Saints on Wednesday: quarterback Jameis Winston continued to progress in his own recovery from a torn ACL by participating in full-team drills, and newly converted tight end Taysom Hill returned to practice after recovering from a Lisfranc injury.