METAIRIE, La. -- For Pierre Thomas, the normally mundane post-practice routine of cutting tape off his left ankle seemed to put him in a good mood.
The running back's perspective has changed after spending most of the past seven weeks off the field and in the training room.
"I feel great. I feel better than I did a couple of weeks ago, I can tell you that," Thomas said Thursday. "I got a smile on my face. I'm not grumpy. I'm not upset about my ankle anymore."
While Thomas is suiting up for practice and doing some individual work, he is not yet taking part in 11-on-11 drills, so he is officially listed as not practicing on the injury report.
Thomas is not expected to play this Sunday when New Orleans (6-3) hosts Seattle (5-4), but he sounded optimistic that his return would come sooner than later.
"Right now I'm going day-to-day, but I could probably give you a hint that I might be back sooner than people think," Thomas said.
"He's doing a lot of agility work during the course of practice with the trainers and I think he's starting to get his strength back," Payton said.
Thomas, who was New Orleans' top rusher last season and a key performer in the playoffs, has missed six games since spraining his left ankle in Week 3 against the Atlanta Falcons. During much of his rehabilitation, progress proved hard to measure.
Thomas tried to return to practice in Week 5, only to later wind up wearing a protective boot and using crutches.
Thomas said he was hearing there might be a slight ligament tear, while other doctors said there was no evidence of anything more than a bad sprain. Thomas didn't want to have surgery because he feared that would sideline him the remainder of the season, so the only other option, doctors said, was a lot of rest -- and that made Thomas restless.
"It is depressing, man," Thomas said. "I wasn't thrilled about not being out there helping my guys out when I really wanted to."
Thomas said turning his focus back more to football than treatment this week has helped him mentally.
"A lot of people said they've seen a difference in me, said they've seen a big smile on my face," Thomas said. "I'm back in the motions. I'm back out there with my teammates helping out and doing what I have to do. That's what I'm more happy about. Being out there with those guys and not missing a beat. Being in the huddle, being in there with those guys and just hearing the plays, I miss that."
Notes: Thomas was one of only three players who did not participate in full team drills, along with free safety Darren Sharper (hamstring) and TE Jeremy Shockey (bruised ribs). ... Reserve CB Patrick Robinson, who missed practice on Wednesday with a right ankle sprain, returned on a limited basis on Thursday.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press