New Orleans Saints running back Pierre Thomas returned to practice on Thursday for the first time since injuring his chest in Week 17, according to ESPN's Mike Triplett. His status for the Saints' second-round playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks is unclear.
Thomas was limited on Thursday, though the fact that he's participating at all is a positive sign for a team that will need its ground attack Saturday on a day when rain and high winds are expected in Seattle. The specifics of the injury have not been reported by the team, though it was significant enough to sideline Thomas during the Wild Card round.
New Orleans managed without him last week in a win over the Philadelphia Eagles, using a combination of Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson to post 185 yards on the ground. Their challenge gets substantially more difficult on Saturday against a Seattle run defense that allows just 101.6 rushing yards per game.
While the Saints' committee approach limits the impact of any one runner, Thomas has been the most productive of the group. He was on the field for 57 percent of the snaps in games he was healthy and led the team in attempts (147) and rushing yards (549). Thomas also grades out as the highest pass protector of the bunch at Pro Football Focus and is an underrated pass catcher. While Sproles is considered the best receiving option out of the backfield, Thomas is actually ahead of him in receptions (77) and receiving touchdowns (3).
With Thomas sidelined against the Eagles, the Saints turned most of the work over to Ingram, who had 18 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown. The former first-round pick, who has struggled to make in impact in New Orleans in his first three seasons, showed good burst and averaged 5.4 yard per carry.
Sproles had just four carries and four receptions for a combined 60 yards but was on the field for 39 percent of the snaps (compared to Ingram's 46 percent).
Robinson saw just 15 snaps but got the ball on over half of them, rushing for 45 yards on eight touches.