Experienced at losing star, Saints equipped to handle Michael Thomas injury

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Michael Thomas
(Photo: Parker Waters)

Next man up.

The concept is as old as dirt in athletics.

The fact of the matter is that some are equipped to overcome the adversity of losing a star player while others simply cannot do so.

In 2019, the New Orleans Saints lost their most important player, if not their best, when Drew Brees suffered a thumb injury.

It happened in the second game of the season in a loss at Los Angeles to the Rams.

The immediate thought of many, including myself, was that it could be catastrophic to the team’s Super Bowl aspirations and would put the Saints in danger of losing the NFC South and quite possibly missing the playoffs.

Excellent, well constructed teams have the depth, the mindset and the confidence to overcome.

The 2019 Saints were able to do just that.

When Brees went down, in stepped Teddy Bridgewater.

Keep in mind that the player the Saints lost was a future Hall of Fame inductee, one of the best quarterbacks and players to ever play the game, the most accurate passer the NFL has ever seen.

All Bridgewater did was to lead the Saints to a 5-0 record.

Then, Brees returned and the Saints finished 13-3.

While Brees was superb in 2019, the best player on the team was Michael Thomas, who set an NFL record with 149 catches and leading the league with 1,725 receiving yards. That is, of course, with all due respect to Cam Jordan and Demario Davis, who were terrific.

That came a year after Thomas caught a league-high 125 balls.

For the past two years, the popular cry of Saints fans, media and observers has been for New Orleans to address the wide receiver position.

With the advancing age of Ted Ginn Jr., New Orleans truly lacked a good second option, much less a third option at the wide receiver spot.

The Saints addressed the issue prior to this season with the signing of Emmanuel Sanders, who paid dividends immediately with a touchdown catch in his first game.

Now, despite the incredible, mercurial competitive nature of Thomas, it is a distinct possibility that opposing teams will not have to worry about the concept of “can’t guard Mike.”

While Thomas will do everything to play, there is the real chance that he will not play at Las Vegas Monday night. There is the stark possibility that he could miss multiple games. Such is the nature of the dreaded high ankle sprain.

In a perfect world, you would like to see Thomas miss time, heal up completely, and return in full fashion, as the dominant force that he is, as opposed to playing at significantly less than 100 percent.

Mike Evans likely played at far less than 100 percent against New Orleans this past weekend and you saw the result. Against a superb defender in Marshon Lattimore, Evans was not the player he has and can be as Lattimore basically took him out of the game. Evans caught his touchdown pass against Davis.

As good as Thomas is, the Saints are capable of mitigating his absence for a period of time.

It is time for Sanders to step up and become a primary target of Brees.

It is certainly time for Tre’Quan Smith to step up and prove that he is a player.

Jared Cook is an excellent player who will remain a primary target of Brees.

Alvin Kamara is already a force in the passing game and he will have to produce a little bit more.

All of the above can happen if Brees plays to the level we are accustomed to seeing him play at, as opposed to the way he played against the Buccaneers.

Then, there are a pair of X-factors.

Whenever Taysom Hill touches the ball of late, he makes plays. Defenses must account for him. Whether he lines up at quarterback, tight end, running back, split wide or as a slot receiver, he attracts attention.

We can expect Hill to get more snaps on offense.

Then, there is Deonte Harris.

The best kick/punt return man in the NFL is a tremendous weapon.

When you factor in the number of touchbacks in the league today, Harris does not get many opportunities to do damage on kickoffs.

On offense, Harris gives the Saints electric speed, the kind of speed Ginn had in his prime. Harris is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball.

It is time for Harris to get more snaps on offense.

While he is diminutive, as opposed to the physically imposing but equally explosive Hill, Harris is dynamic, with the kind of elite speed seldom seen this side of Tyreek Hill.

Between Hill and Harris, getting to 15 touches combined would be an optimum level and it would be exciting.

Like the absence of Brees, it is hard to fathom the Saints without Thomas. Perhaps he misses minimal time, if any time at all. You have to assume that he will miss time.

Like Bridgewater, the Saints have players capable of filling the void.

Now, we may see them do so.

With Sanders, Kamara, Cook, Hill and Harris, the Saints have the weapons needed to accomplish the goal of not missing a beat. Do not sleep on Smith or the possibility of Adam Trautman, either. Bennie Fowler likely gets another shot on the active roster if Thomas is out.

That is what the really good teams do, accept the reality of injuries, call on the next man up and continue to win.

We may be about to find out just how good the 2020 New Orleans Saints are.

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Ken Trahan


Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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