Saints pass torch from McAllister to … Thomas

Look for Pierre Thomas to be the go-to RB this season for the Saints. (Ed Zurga / Associated Press)

Look for Pierre Thomas to be the go-to RB this season for the Saints. (Ed Zurga / Associated Press)

The New Orleans Saints made a quiet move this offseason, passing the torch from their all-time leading rusher, Deuce McAllister, to third-year back Pierre Thomas. It wasn’t passed to Reggie Bush.

Though he’s only 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds, Thomas has emerged as the lead rusher and is expected to provide a physical presence and inside running game for the Saints.

For those who have been paying attention, Thomas’ starting role should come as no surprise.

After passing Red Grange on the University of Illinois’ all-time rushing list, and out-performing Rashard Mendenhall, who would go on to be a first-round pick of the Steelers, Thomas still went undrafted in 2007.

Thomas’ all-around talent and toughness caught the eyes of coaches during his rookie training camp in 2007, but his defining moment didn’t come until the season finale against his hometown Chicago Bears. Thomas rang in the New Year with a champagne-popping performance, gaining 105 yards rushing and 121 yards receiving. His 226 total yards from scrimmage is the third-best individual performance in Saints history. Only McAlister has had more — totaling 237 and 232 in back-to-back games in 2003.

It’s Thomas, and not Bush or McAllister, who has finished the last two seasons as the Saints’ most healthy and durable runner. As head coach Sean Peyton says, “Pierre Thomas gets hard yards and knows how to finish runs.” Thomas was impressive when he began taking over his new role at the end of last season. He ran 53 times for 501 yards and six touchdowns in his last seven games, with a 4.8 per carry avg, to finish 2008 as the Saints’ leading rusher.

Behind the numbers and inside his seemingly small frame, Thomas is a surprisingly powerful runner, who is difficult to tackle. He’s elusive in space, and slippery between the tackles. A breakout season for Thomas means Peyton may continue to use Bush in his spectacular role feasting on match up advantages.

So get ready. The rest of us are about to find out what the Saints and Chicago Bears now already know. Thomas is a rare performer, who is capable of producing big-time results.

– Solomon Wilcots

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