METAIRIE, La. — For much of the first four days of training camp, Chase Thomas was mired deep on the Saints depth chart at outside linebacker.
And then Monday, late in practice, Martez Wilson dislocated his left elbow.
By the close of practice Tuesday, Thomas – an undrafted rookie free agent out of Stanford – was spending consistent time with the first and second units. So, too, were Baraka Atkins (picture below, 59) and Rufus Johnson.
In other words, for the next 2-4 weeks, the length of time it’s expected for Wilson to heal, the Saints have an opening at the backup Sam linebacker position.
“We’ve got enough numbers and it’s really just getting a chance to see these guys in team drills and one-on-one pass rush drills and some of the individual stuff,” coach Sean Payton said.
Thomas (6-foot-3, 241 pounds) played outside linebacker in Stanford’s 3-4 defense and is comfortable playing both the Sam (strongside) and Jack (weakside) positions. He finished with 229 tackles, 27½ sacks and 50½ tackles for a loss in his 52 games with the Cardinals.
Yet, he’s smart enough to realize, even at 24 years old, that getting excited over the depth chart on Day 5 isn’t the wisest idea. He’s also smart enough, though, to know that now’s the time to show what he can do.
“You can’t look too much into the depth chart right now,” Thomas said. “It’s real early in camp. But at the same time, you get that opportunity to go against the first offensive line and Jimmy Graham and Drew Brees and all those guys that you’ve watched on TV all this time, it’s a surreal feeling.”
Payton said it watching Thomas’ days at Stanford told him enough about the young player to bring him this offseason.
“The No. 1 thing is he was productive,” Payton said. “If you just watch the tape, you saw him make a lot of plays. The productivity was something that stood out.”
Although Atkins (6-4, 265) has three years of NFL experience and 28 total tackles and two sacks, he hasn’t played in a regular season game since 2008. This marks another opportunity to earn a way onto a roster. He went to training camp with Rob Ryan and the Cowboys in 2012 and now both are in New Orleans.
“Knowing Rob and knowing there was an opportunity,” Atkins said. “I had another opportunity so I’m going to go out and put forth my best efforts.”