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Backfield help: Saints' Thomas expects to return this week

Running back Pierre Thomas, who led the New Orleans Saints in rushing during their Super Bowl season a year ago, said Monday he expects to practice this week with "no limitations."

Thomas, who hasn't played since injuring his left ankle in a Week 3 game vs. the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons, said he is confident coach Sean Payton wants him back on the field.

"I know he's willing to play me if I'm ready," said Thomas, who was limited at practice last week.

Rookie Chris Ivory has 254 yards and five touchdowns during the past three games, and Reggie Bush is returning to form after missing eight games due to a broken leg.

Saints coach Sean Payton was cautiously optimistic about Thomas' return.

"I think he is going to play,"  Payton told the *New Orleans Times-Picayune*. "I do. What I don't want to do is say he is playing next Sunday and then not be right if it doesn't feel well this week. But I would say based on the way he practiced last week that there is a lot of optimism he will be involved in this plan."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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