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News » Thomas has earned shot to be Saints' lead back

Thomas has earned shot to be Saints' lead back

Thomas has earned shot to be Saints' lead back
All this talk of Chris "Beanie" Wells and short-yardage backs hasn't unsettled Pierre Thomas one bit.

One, he can't control it, doesn't have a say in whether the Saints will draft Wells, a 6-foot-1, 235-pound Ohio State running back, with their first-round pick Saturday and try to plug him in as their change-of-pace, grind-it-out power back.

Two, Thomas figures the Saints already have such a guy. He wears No. 23, measures 5-11 and 215, and he goes by the name Pierre Thomas.

And whether or not you believe Thomas really is that guy, it's hard to argue that he hasn't earned the chance to be the Saints' No. 1 running back and an increased workload. In 15 games last season, splitting carries with Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush, Thomas led the Saints with 625 yards rushing and nine rushing touchdowns on 129 carries.

Better, he ran for 501 yards and six touchdowns in the final seven games, when he also had 24 of his 31 receptions, 236 of his 284 yards receiving and all three of his receiving touchdowns.

In other words, he got a lot more productive as the season progressed and finished with a team-leading 12 touchdowns, which tied for eighth-most in the NFL.

"I think I really proved myself, that I can be a No. 1 back," Thomas said. "Hopefully, (the way he finished the season) really got to them also, that they can put me as that No. 1 guy.

"That's what my thoughts are going into the season, but I'm still going to work hard. I'm looking at it as I've still got to make a name for myself for these guys, and I've still got to help my teammates out. I can't let anybody down; I still have the same attitude as in '07, when I started with the Saints."

It's an effective approach to take, even though -- clearly -- he's not that same guy.

Then, he was an undrafted rookie free agent, battling odds that looked insurmountable. Then, the Saints had McAllister, younger and less surgically repaired and who'd run for 1,057 yards in 2006. And Bush was fresh off a dazzling season in which he was one of the league's top rookies. And the Saints had drafted Ohio State running back Antonio Pittman in the fourth round.

Now, after beating out Pittman for a roster spot in 2007 and primarily serving as a special teams player in his first year, Thomas appears to be the Saints' top running back.

Bush remains an electrifying talent, but Thomas averages more than a yard per carry better than Bush (4.8 to 3.7) in their short careers. And Thomas had just 108 fewer yards rushing (985-877) than Bush the past two seasons despite having 82 fewer carries (263-181). McAllister, the Saints' all-time leading rusher, was released in February.

His exit appears to have blasted open a door of opportunity for Thomas.

"When they made that decision with Deuce, that was real tough," he said. "Deuce was like a mentor for me. He was an idol, a guy I looked up to and his playing style.

"When they released him, it kind of dawned on me like, 'Wow. They must have a lot of confidence in me. I might be getting my opportunity to show them what I can do even more if I get more touches in a game.' I know I did a lot last year, but this might be an opportunity for me to do a whole lot more.

"(But) I still think of myself as a free agent, a guy who's trying to get in position to get a spot on the team. I'm not taking anything for granted. I'm still going to go out there and work hard, just like I did when I first got there."

That's been pretty good for him so far. The offensive cameos have shown signs of what Thomas can do.

In the season finale of his rookie year, he became the first player in team history to have at least 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in the same game. Three times in the final five games last season he scored two touchdowns in a game, and five times in the last six games he had at least 100 yards total offense.

Sure, it's dicey to project numbers. But it's not foolish to say Thomas appears to be a good fit for what the Saints do on offense and to wonder just how productive he might be if he gets more touches and spends a little less time on special teams.

"I'm going to take whatever they throw at me," he said. "If they want me on special teams, I'm going to stay on special teams. I want to go out there and help my team, because that's what it's all about.

"(The priority is to) help your team win the game and get into the playoffs and try to get to the Super Bowl. So, whatever I can do to help -- use my skills that God blessed me with -- I'm going to use. I'm going to do whatever it takes to help my team get a victory."

This season, that role primarily could be in the backfield. It's one Thomas appears to have earned, regardless of whether the Saints choose to add Wells or anyone else.

"The only thing I can say is that I've got to show everybody that I can be that guy," he said. "A lot of guys told me that I'm a little dude, but I run hard. I run like I'm a big back.

"I'm really trying to show everyone that I'm versatile. I can be that big back, and I can be an agile runner. I know I don't have that breakout speed, but I know I can be consistent."

. . . . . . .

John DeShazier can be reached at jdeshazier@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3410.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 23, 2009

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Ernest Wilford Name: Ernest Wilford
Position: WR
Age: 29
Experience: 5 years
College: Virginia Tech
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