Saints cornerback Fred Thomas will be a man on a mission when the team reports for training camp on July 28 and begins practice one day later.
Actually, the 10-year veteran has been on a mission since the end of the 2004 season, a nightmare of a year in which nagging injuries cost him the starting job he had held for 3 1/2 seasons.
Thomas is determined to show the starting spot is still his after being relegated to the nickel and dime alignments following the team's acquisition of Mike McKenzie in a trade with the Green Bay Packers last October.
But Thomas isn't blaming anything on McKenzie, who came in and led the team with five interceptions in just 11 games and solidified a secondary that showed great improvement during a four-game winning streak to close out the season.
"I feel like I shortchanged this team and my teammates last year," Thomas said. "It's one of those seasons that you have to bounce back from. One of those years you want to show isn't typical for you."
Thomas started only seven games last year and had 52 tackles and no interceptions after registering a career-high 99 tackles and a team-high four interceptions in starting 14 games in 2003.
Foot and ankle injuries and personal problems that he would not elaborate on combined to wreck his 2004 season, Thomas said, and he's worked hard this spring and summer to make sure it doesn't happen again.
"Anybody who knows me knows that was not what you should expect from me," he said.
It all started when he injured his right foot in the team's second exhibition game at Green Bay. The injury to his toes, ball of the foot and ankle hindered him all year although he didn't make excuses.
"There were certain times I was limping during games," Thomas said. "I play on my toes, so it hurt me when I set or cut. I tried to compensate for it, but sometimes it put me in bad positions."
He's still not 100 percent, but Thomas continued his rehab day after day this spring and he said he didn't miss a single workout on the field during the team's strength and conditioning work and coaching sessions.
"Being a 10-year veteran, you'd think I don't have to prove anything," Thomas said. "But I know that's not the case. I know I have to prove everything all over again this year.
"I think this year, you'll see a very, very improved Fred Thomas," he added. "I'm sure of that."
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