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Barry Hirstius

NFL Can’t Guard Mike — and the Saints Love It

It's a sunny day in late spring at the Saints Practice Facility in Metairie just outside of suburban New Orleans, when suddenly.......Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.........Can you hear that?

If you listen very closely, then you probably can.

It's the sound of fear.

The fear in a beating heart of a young man who's been given the assignment of covering one of the NFL's fastest rising superstars.

Can't guard Mike?

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

Don't worry, young fella --- not that many people can, so at least you're not alone.

You just better hope that you don't get "cut".

That scene described above and many more just like it, will play themselves out as the New Orleans Saints have began and will continue to make preparations for the upcoming 2017 NFL season.

It's a season that will feature one of the NFL's fastest young rising "superstars", and a player who may have have also become a "superstar" quicker than any Saints player in recent memory.

Perhaps 1971 Saints rookie and #1 overall NFL Draft pick Archie Manning of Ole Miss, or 2006 #2 overall pick Reggie Bush of USC would qualify; but maybe neither one of them ever made the type of impact that this young man has.

That young man of course, is now 2nd year NFL WR and the team's 2nd Round pick last year out of Ohio State, Michael Thomas.

Photo courtesy of United Press International

The nephew of former NFL superstar WR legend Keyshawn Johnson from the 1990's and early 2000's, Thomas clearly is following in his famous uncle's footsteps, and putting his own stamp on what is sure to become an NFL playing legacy of his own.

This year, Thomas takes over as the brand new #1 WR on the Saints depth chart, a responsibility that was Saints team management's intentions all along, when they quickly snapped him up with the #47 overall pick of last year's 2016 NFL Draft.

As Thomas told the assembled media Thursday afternoon after the final practice of the team's opening round of OTA's, he's preparing to assume the role of the #1 WR on the depth chart following the departure in the off-season of former #1 WR Brandin Cooks, the Saints former top pick of the 2014 NFL Draft (# overall) who was traded to the New England Patriots for the #31 overall pick --- which the Saints then used to select University of Wisconsin offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk.

"That has nothing to do with me," Thomas said, when one of the reporters asked him directly about the Cooks trade, and how it has impacted him as well as his relationship with his now departed friend. "Brandin is my friend but you know... we just come in and go to work and it's a business. We can't control that. We just come in and work hard."

Thomas then made mention of how his focus is not on the trade or his quick rise to the #1 WR spot on the Saints depth chart, but with just trying to improve upon a 2016 rookie season that saw him lead New Orleans in receiving yards with 1,173 and finished 2nd on the team with 92 catches and 9 total touchdowns --- a rookie season at the WR position unmatched in the team's entire 51-year history.

Photo by Brian Bahr, Getty Images

As part of his preparation, Thomas told reporters including ESPN team beat writer Mike Triplett that he has even "bulked up" a bit; and is now up to about 220 pounds after adding 10 pounds of pure muscle to a chiseled-from-stone like physique.

Thomas then made it clear to the assembled media that he is completely aware of the family legacy established by his famous uncle, but that he wants to become an established star at the professional level in his own right.

"I mean, I want to be one of the best to ever play the game, so I put a lot of pressure on myself. Just because coming from a family that played in the NFL, and then being the guy now, I just want to take advantage of my opportunity."

With his new role however, will come new challenges.

Opposing NFL teams / defensive coordinators will unquestionably seek to now put their best defensive back in coverage across from Thomas, as well as utilizing some additional zone coverage or even double-teams in a concerted effort to prevent him from becoming the potentially dominant player at the WR position that he can truly be.

Thomas told reporters that the Saints' recent reunion with former and now current again WR coach Curtis "CJ" Johnson has been a huge benefit to his off-season training process.

"He's (Coach Johnson) real disciplined on the little things. I feel like I'm gonna be able to take my game to another level."

Photo courtesy of David Grunfeld, The New Orleans Times-Picayune

"Just finishing my routes, being a technician, being perfect depth, being in the right place at the right time," Thomas listed among the points of emphasis that he's been working on while training under the guidance and tutelage of Coach Johnson. "Using my eyes better, visualizing the coverage pre-snap better."

"I feel like I could be a lot better," Thomas added. "Just be more disciplined, always try to catch every ball, make sure you take advantage of your opportunities, go 1-for-1 every play, every snap and just stacking those up and it starts with OTAs and then training camp."

As a consequence of his rapid rise to stardom, Thomas has become a huge hit among Saints fans in the Who Dat Nation; who have taken to his affable personality as well as his "Can't Guard Mike" Twitter handle and his trademark "shhhhhhhhh" tagline to silence his "haters" and doubters.

But no one disputes that for a young man that just turned 24 in March, the sky is truly the limit for someone who only has one season of NFL experience under his belt but yet still acts and plays as if he were a 10-year veteran.

Part of that is probably due to his pedigree and the influence of his Uncle Keyshawn, but there's also no doubt that Thomas has put in the hard work and dedication in an effort to achieve greatness of his own volition.

And no benefactor of that effort could be any greater than the team that has put their trust and faith in him, as the player capable of helping them reaching their ultimate goal --- another World Championship for themselves and their legendary quarterback who is in all likelihood, just a few years removed from his inevitable retirement.

Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL can't guard Mike --- and the Saints just love it.

And hey: don't you just love it, too?

Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh..................

Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist and Lead Analyst Barry Hirstius is a 50-year old semi-retired journalist and former New Orleans area sports editor and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints NFL football team. Additionally, he is a frequent guest on a variety of Sports Talk Radio programs that cover the Saints. Barry is also a New Orleans native that dating all the way back to his childhood in the early 1970's, attended games at the old Tulane Stadium and grew up as a long-time Saints fan; following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.......

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