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John DeShazier: Competition nothing new for Mark Ingram

Posted Jun 14, 2017

Saints running back has had to fight for carries his entire NFL career

There’s nothing new under Mark Ingram’s sun.

No day has passed in his NFL career, since the New Orleans Saints made the former Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama the No. 28 overall draft pick in 2011, that here hasn’t been a Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, Khiry Robinson or Tim Hightower in New Orleans’ backfield to challenge for carries and assignments.

So when the Saints signed Adrian Peterson this offseason, Ingram didn’t feel out of sorts.

Granted, Peterson’s career production (11,747 yards and 97 rushing touchdowns on 2,418 carries) dwarfs the collective numbers of the aforementioned quintet, and essentially assure that he will be a Hall of Famer shortly after he becomes eligible. And the Saints are convinced that the 32-year-old will be productive for both seasons of his two-year contract, and perhaps beyond that, so there’s a distinct plan for his offensive inclusion.

But for Ingram, who is coming off the most productive season in his career – career highs in rushing yards (1,043), yards from scrimmage (1,352) and touchdowns (10) – the addition simply was the latest challenge he has been presented as a Saint. He has shared the workload in times of prosperity, drought and injury.

“It’s pretty much been the makeup of this backfield, that there have been numerous guys who can start anywhere in the league,” he said. “Coming from college to my rookie year, to two years ago, to last year, there’s always been a number of guys that are very talented and very athletic. Competition is nothing new.

“Of course you want the ball. Of course I’d love to have it as many times as possible. But it is what it is. I’ve been sharing the ball in this backfield since I got here, and that’s not going to change.”

Also unchanging is Ingram’s approach, a mind-set that has led to a spike in improvement the last three seasons.

In his first three years, he played in 37 games and ran for 1,462 yards and 11 touchdowns on 356 carries (a 4.1-yard average), and caught 24 passes for 143 yards and no touchdowns. In the next three, he played in 41 games and ran for 2,776 yards and 21 touchdowns on 597 carries (4.65 yards per carry), and caught 125 passes for 869 yards and four touchdowns.

From an average of 119 carries for 487 yards per season in his first three years, to an average of 199 carries for 925 yards per season in the most recent three, Ingram’s work to improve has been evident and he has shown that regardless of the shared workload, he has been up to the task when his number is called.

“I know I certainly appreciate him,” quarterback Drew Brees said Wednesday. “I appreciate him a lot. Maybe he isn’t talked about as much as other guys, but he certainly deserves to be. Especially for a guy like me, who has had the chance to watch him grow since we drafted him in 2011, and what he’s been able to accomplish here the last three years, we’ve really leaned on him at times.

“He has done a fantastic job and not only that but he has become, in my opinion, one of the best all-purpose backs in this league. What he can do running between the tackles, what he can do catching the football out of the backfield and also just in our third-down stuff – picking up protections, getting out, run after the catch, getting first downs in critical situations in the passing game as well as the run game – I just don’t see there being a better all-purpose guy in the league right now. He’s certainly in that conversation.

“Obviously, there’s a ton of excitement around the signing of Adrian Peterson. But let’s not forget that we have Mark Ingram and I think the combination of those two guys is what makes us even more formidable.”

That’s the goal. And with that in mind, Ingram and Peterson haven’t had any issue coexisting.

“I’ve been pretty impressed with him,” Peterson said. “I didn’t know him, but I ran into him a couple times but he’s a down to earth young man and he’s a hard worker, and he’s been helping me a lot trying to pick up this new terminology.

“I think there’s a lot of advice that I can give him. I believe that each running back has their own style so there might be things that he sees that I might miss and vice versa. Of course, being able to compete against each other always makes you better.

“I really think it’s too early to say (how the rotation will shake out), but right now we’re competing to push each other and to get better. When we step on that field and we get our opportunities, then we’re able to execute and take advantage of those opportunities.”

Ingram said he long has admired Peterson.

“This guy is one of the best backs that has ever walked on this planet,” Ingram said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for him, things he’s been through, things he’s overcome, the amount of success he’s had. A first-ballot Hall of Famer, clearly. He looks good out here. He’s running fast, he’s very explosive out of his cuts. I’ve admired him ever since he was a freshman at Oklahoma, and we’re in the same backfield now and we’re competing and making each other better. That’s just what it is.

“We’re cool, man. That’s my guy. When we get on the field, we both want to be the best at what we do. He wants to be the best, I want to be the best, so we’re going to work our butts off to make sure that happens. But that’s my guy.

“We talk about stuff, we joke about stuff. If I have something that I need to talk about, I can go to him and talk. If he wants to talk about something with me or ask about me, it’s the same. There’s no personal vendetta against him. That’s my guy. We just come out here and compete.”

It’s not a new scenario for Ingram. It’s one with which he has grown familiar since becoming a Saint.

“I feel like any time I have the opportunity to touch the ball regularly, rushing and passing, I feel like I’m going to be productive,” he said. “My last three years, I’ve had the best three years of my career. I’ve only been getting better and better. So I feel like any time that I can touch the ball, carry it or catch it, I’m going to be productive. And I’m going to keep improving.”

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