New Orleans Saints WR Michael Thomas participates in 11-on-11 drills for first time since 2020

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas took the next step in his return to football on Saturday.

Thomas participated in 11-on-11 drills for the first time since the end of the 2020 season, continuing a ramp-up process that has been ongoing since the offseason started. Thomas was only a spectator at OTAs in June, but he was able to practice on Day 1 of training camp and returned to 7-on-7 drills on Wednesday.

So far it's been all positive signs for his recovery from the injury to his left ankle, which required surgery to repair a torn deltoid and other injured ligaments. Thomas has not been at 100 percent since he was injured in the 2020 season opener and has not been a full participant in practice since the end of that season.

Thomas missed the 2021 offseason after having surgery on the ankle and did not return to play during the regular season last year after a midseason setback.

Saints coach Dennis Allen said on Friday that Thomas' return to team drills was coming "soon," something he joked about on Saturday.

"I told you it was coming sooner rather than later right?" he joked.

Allen said Saturday was a good day for Thomas to build confidence in the strength of his ankle.

"Honestly there was a couple of times he ended up on the ground," Allen said. "That's all part of the process in building that confidence. I think he's in a good mindset right now, I think he looks good physically. I'm excited about where he's at."

Thomas began the first set of team drills on Saturday with a pass from quarterback Jameis Winston, then later attempted a catch down the sideline from Winston that was broken up by cornerback Paulson Adebo. He caught another pass from Winston that was fumbled and recovered by safety Tyrann Mathieu, who also returned to full team drills for the first time on Saturday after missing the beginning of camp for personal reasons.

Thomas finished off his day with a catch from third-team quarterback Ian Book.

"We've kind of held the reins back on him, our decision more so than it's been his. It's part of the ramp-up process and we'll continue to ramp him up," Allen said regarding Mathieu, who returned to practice Wednesday.

It's been a positive few days for Thomas, who made a statement on Wednesday by going 3-for-3 in his return to 7-on-7 work. He also has looked sharp in one-on-one work against defensive backs. It's unknown if Mathieu or Thomas will play in the Saints' first preseason game against the Texans on Aug. 13.

A surprising no-show at practice was linebacker Kiko Alonso, who has decided to retire, according to a source. Alonso was prepared to return to football after a two-year absence and signed with the Saints on Friday, participating in that day's practice session as well.

He was fully recovered from a torn ACL that occurred with the Saints at the end of the 2019 season, but changed his mind regarding a comeback, electing to stay retired instead. He will retire after six seasons and 86 games in the NFL with the Bills, Eagles, Dolphins and Saints.