Michael Thomas has a secret, and he’s about to spill it.
It isn’t coming easily. He looks up and smiles the smile of a man who knows something no one else knows.
At first, the New Orleans Saints rookie wide receiver is reluctant to open up. He jokes that he’ll write a book after his career is over.
It takes some doing. He’s asked, then asked again. This secret was passed down to him from members of the fraternity of great receivers. He wants to be careful about how much he reveals.
His uncle, Keyshawn Johnson, first told him about it. Hall of Famer Cris Carter filled in some more details.
Finally, he starts to give some basics: the who, what, where and when.
But the how? That’s staying tucked away.
The secret? Hand yoga.
This might sound odd. No, it does sound odd. It also seems there might be something to this.
Thomas said he has seen measurable growth in his hands since he began doing the exercises as part of his routine. His mitts registered at 10.5 inches at the scouting combine, which is bigger than all but three players over the past three years.
If nothing else, he has the goods to back up his claims.
“It stretches them and stuff,” Thomas said. “It’s a little secret I do. I know the exercises and then, when I get massages, I get the knuckles massaged out.”
The scary part is that Thomas doesn’t think there is a limit to how much he can stretch his hands. He was measured again by ESPN after the combine, and his hands had grown a quarter-inch.
Thomas was asked in jest whether he thought there was a limit to how far his hands could stretch. Some number beyond a foot was thrown out.
The rookie didn’t seem to think it was a completely wild idea.
“They just keep increasing. I do it all the time,” he said. “We’ll see.”
Those hands were one of the first things Saints head coach Sean Payton and wide receivers coach John Morton noticed about Thomas. Even in traffic, he can go over the middle and keep his hands on pretty much any pass he touches.
So, it should be no surprise that Thomas only dropped a combined five balls over the past two seasons at Ohio State. His ability to play in traffic could make the rookie a fit to fill some of the areas Marques Colston’s release has left vacant in the Saints offense.
“You can see his length, the way he catches the ball,” Morton said. “The thing I noticed — or that we noticed — is that he caught balls with guys on him. National Football League, that’s what you have to do nowadays. It’s hard to create a lot of separation from defenders. You have to be able to catch balls with guys on him.”
So, does he see Thomas playing more over the middle, where he can use those skills in traffic?
“I see a guy who can do everything,” Morton said.
Morton said he isn’t concerned about the size of Thomas’ hands — “I just look at if he can catch,” he said — and he never paid attention to it when he was scouting the Ohio State product. But it is something the Saints pay attention to during the predraft process.
“We establish certain prototypes,” Payton said. “We note it if they’re length-deficient if they’re smaller. Certainly hand size. A guy like him or Willie Snead (101/4 inches) has real long hands. Those are good traits to have.
“There’s prototypes for each position. Receivers, when it gets to the ‘L’ grade, we’re grading length. That would include hand size, the same way it would for quarterbacks. It might be arms for offensive tackles.”
The Saints are hoping Thomas’ hands will help their offense get to another level. It was already one of the top units last season, but the team needs a player who can catch passes in traffic. That was most apparent in the red zone: Drew Brees connected on less than half of his passes from inside the 10-yard line last season.
New Orleans also could use a player who can get deep to take some pressure off and open things up for Brandin Cooks. And even though Thomas didn’t do much of that at Ohio State, Morton believes his newest player is capable of anything.
As for Thomas, he’s fine with whatever he’s asked to do. He just wants to make sure he catches every pass that touches his hands.
You can trust that he’ll be working on making sure that happens.
“You always want to use your hands. You want to be violent with your hands, and ultimately you want to catch the ball with your hands,” he said. “The more strength you have in your hands, the bigger frame you have with your hands and the measurements, the more successful you can be.”
If his game translates, there shouldn’t be anything quiet about his performance. That’s no stretch.