Thomas making mark with Saints

Published 11:56 pm Thursday, November 26, 2009

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — David Thomas has no beef with the New England Patriots.

He wasn’t offended that they unloaded him to New Orleans this preseason for a 2011 seventh-round pick, though few would have blamed the most prolific tight end in the history of the Texas Longhorns for wondering if he was worth a little more.

‘‘It doesn’t matter what I was traded for,’’ Thomas said this week, as his unbeaten Saints prepared to play New England this Monday night. ‘‘I’m just happy to be here. It’s a great opportunity — a good football team with great guys, great character in this locker room and I don’t get caught up in (trade value). I just show up and try to do my job every day.’’

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The Patriots originally drafted Thomas in the third round in 2006. As a rookie, he played in 15 games with three starts. He was part of the 2007 team that went 16-0, but spent all but the first month of that season on the sideline with a foot injury. Last year, he started 10 games, making nine catches for 93 yards.

This season, the Patriots had a logjam at his position. With Ben Watson and Chris Baker performing well, the Patriots decided to trade Thomas.

‘‘You just can’t keep everybody on your roster sometimes that you want to keep,’’ Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. ‘‘I thought Dave was a good player when we drafted him. I think he was a good player when we traded him… but I think we have other good players on our team as well and sometimes it just comes down to managing your roster and the numbers that you have.’’

The Saints were scrambling to find a veteran tight end when Billy Miller tore his right Achilles’ tendon late in the preseason. Former Patriots fullback Heath Evans, who signed with the Saints earlier this year, said he lobbied for Thomas.

‘‘What a steal,’’ Evans said. ‘‘I was the one kind of standing on the table saying he’s a great locker room guy, very cerebral in his approach to the game of football, which I think is kind of what you need in this day and age. You’ve got to be able to play a lot of positions, you’ve got to be able to do a lot of things and he can do that.’’

Thomas wound up taking snaps at both fullback and tight end after Heath Evans went out for the season with torn knee ligaments.

In the past two games, with opponents focused on limiting fellow tight end Jeremy Shockey, Thomas has nine catches for 111 yards and a touchdown.

Saints coach Sean Payton expected Thomas to be productive, but stopped short of saying he knew the trade was going to work out as well as it has for his club.

‘‘You understand that it’s not an exact science,’’ Payton said. ‘‘He has obviously filled a role for us and with the injury to Heath Evans, his role to some degree has expanded and we’ve been fortunate that way.’’

Quarterback Drew Brees was less restrained in his praise.

‘‘It’s like finding (wide receiver Marques) Colston in the seventh round a couple years back, just a guy who can do so many different things, play at a high level, great in the locker room, just everything you want in a teammate,’’ Brees said.

Thomas isn’t flashy. He isn’t loud in the locker room, wears his brown hair short and spends his offseasons with family and friends in his native Lubbock, Texas.

He has long been a versatile athlete, though. He played basketball in high school and was on the track team, running in relays and competing in long jump and triple jump. He said football was always his favorite, though he half-jokingly conceded that may have been a result of where he grew up.

‘‘That may be because I’m from Texas, I don’t know,’’ he said.

In any event, football has been pretty good to him. He’s caught passes from Tom Brady and Drew Brees. His Saints are 10-0, giving him a shot to be on a second 16-0 team. And lately, he’s played a significant role in New Orleans’ success.

‘‘It has been great to be able to get out there and make some plays,’’ Thomas said. ‘‘The most important thing is when your number is called, step up, and I just try to do that every day.’’