New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees looked out at the defense and then over to his right to wide receiver Michael Thomas.
The defense was in a prevent look, with several players lined up in a straight line about 10 or 12 yards down the field. It was a look the defense used several times last season with some success on third downs.
After seeing the look at Thursday’s organized team activities, Brees thought he would have a better chance of success if Thomas changed his route. He wasn’t sure if the concept ever came up before, they might have talked about it once, but it certainly wasn’t a route the two had ever worked on together.
“I’m just in the moment, and he’s my guy over there at that position,” Brees said. “I give him the look.”
Brees decided to signal anyway. Instead of having Thomas run about 18 yards down on an out route, he wanted Thomas to continue going down the field after making a fake to sell the original route.
Thomas picked up on it. He sold the fake and got Delvin Breaux to bite just enough to get behind the prevent defense and pull in the pass for a long first down. He executed it exactly the way Brees imagined it.
“Coming off the ball and selling your deep route, keeping everything looking the same,” Thomas said. “I knew I would be able to get away with it if I kept it tight and made it look like the original route that was on and then broke it out. I just had to run the route like a professional.”
It was a big moment for him. Thomas took it in stride and played it cool, but he probably wasn’t likely aware that minutes earlier Brees stood before a pack of cameras and gushed about the adjustment he made during the play.
In his typically cool and understated way, the second-round pick out of Ohio State said the play was a result of paying attention to details, studying his playbook and being locked in during meetings. He tries to read the defense the same way as the quarterback and identify ways he can attack the coverage.
He said he wants to use every opportunity to show that he’s locked in and prove himself to the team.
“You might only get one time to show you know what you’re doing, and you got to make that happen,” Thomas said.
He made the impression he wanted to make.
There will be a lot of small moments between now and the start of the season — some good, some bad — but this one showed Brees that the second-round pick understands the game and that they are starting to develop some chemistry.
That’s why Brees couldn’t help but bring Thomas up on his own when asked about an unrelated topic.
“That makes you feel good, too, we’re all on the same page even though we haven’t talked about it yet,” Brees said. “You know this offense; you have a feel for the game. I like it when you see that stuff out of young guys.”
There’s still a long way to go for Thomas and the rest of his teammates. They’ve been on the field together for only a handful of practices, which started last week, continued this week and conclude next week. However, it should be seen as a positive that Thomas is already starting to settle in and make an impression.
He’s going to be to asked to fill a lot of the things that Marques Colston used to do for this offense, which means that he’s essentially replacing a player who had more than a decade of experience reading and reacting to the things in a way that is familiar to Brees.
That kind of chemistry can’t be replicated overnight and taking away his security blanket could have led to some frustration for the quarterback. It doesn’t sound like that’s happening.
Thomas has been a quick study, as evidenced during Thursday’s organized team activity, and Brees has been pleased that he never seems to repeat a mistake. His quick success is already helping the Saints envision all the ways he could help the offense.
One of those spots should be in the red zone, though New Orleans hasn’t started to work on those packages yet.
“If you take a guy who is smart, tough and has a great feel for the game, understands body position, and control, then he’s never really covered,” Brees said. “There’s always places he can use his body where you can throw it where it’s him or nobody. Again, that’s great confidence for a quarterback knowing that I’ve got this outlet, I got this guy that has this range and this feel.”
Considering the issues the team had inside the 10-yard line at times last season, if it works out as planned, having Thomas serving as security inside that area of the field will be another adjustment that should get Brees excited.