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John DeShazier: Saints running backs ready to pick up Mark Ingram's workload

Ingram broke his hand against Cleveland

Both the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings will be without their starting running backs Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, when New Orleans (0-2) plays Minnesota (1-1) in the Saints' 2014 home opener.

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has been placed on the NFL's exempt/commissioner's permission list until his child-abuse case is resolved, which bars him from all team activities.

"You don't prepare for this happening," Vikings Coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday. "I wish there was a manual on these kinds of situations. You just do what you think is right. You go out on Sundays and play as hard as you can and let the chips fall where they may."

Meanwhile, the Saints will be minus Mark Ingram, who ran for 143 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries in the first two games, but broke his hand against Cleveland and required surgery to repair the break.

With 60 rushing yards in the season opener in Atlanta and 83 in Week 2 at Cleveland, Ingram ran for at least 60 yards in consecutive games for the third time in his career. He did it twice in 2012. Entering Sunday's game, he'd accounted for 44 percent of the Saints' 55 rushing attempts, 46 percent of their 313 rushing yards and all but one of the four rushing touchdowns.

And he never has had a better start in the NFL; he combined to run for 31 yards on 17 carries in the first two games last year, 68 yards on 22 carries in the first two games of 2012, and 91 yards on 27 carries in the first two games of 2011, his rookie season.

Ingram, who had two screws placed above his left thumb to repair the displaced fracture, played the entire second half against Cleveland with his broken hand (eight carries for 39 yards and a touchdown in the final two quarters).

"He's a tough player," Saints Coach Sean Payton said Wednesday.

But for the Saints – as it is for the Vikings – it's now "Next Man Up."

For New Orleans, that means eight-year veteran Pierre Thomas (10 carries for 47 yards, nine receptions for 74 yards) and second-year pro Khiry Robinson (14 carries for 59 yards and a touchdown) will step in to absorb most of Ingram's workload.

"I expect a little bit more this game, since we've got a guy down," Thomas said. "It's always bad to have one of your teammates go down, no matter what position it is. But it's in our room. We've got guys to step up to the challenge. We're going to have a lot more on our plate, all of us, so we've all got to do our job.

"It's nothing new. We've all been through it. I've been through it, with an injury and other guys had to step up. You always expect something like this is going to happen. You have to be ready for it. We'll be ready for it. We're going to make sure we know what to do, we're going to make sure we don't lose a beat. We lost a good running back but he's going to get better and he's going to get back quick."

Payton said he expects Robinson also to be prepared for the challenge.

"It's something we preach, with regard to depth," he said. "Khiry is another back that we feel is young and is someone that will be ready for the workload.

"Toward the end (of last season), (Robinson) had a hot hand with regard to just the idea of measuring or grading his run decisions. He's further along here in Year 2 with the whole game. He understands fronts more, where plays are designed to go more and also the protections.

"He's a physical runner, he's got really good balance. He'll be fired up for the opportunity."

They'll be critical factors in the Saints continuing their running start to this season on the ground.

New Orleans is averaging 5.7 yards per carry, second in the league, and is fifth at 156.5 yards per game.

"A lot of times it's a result of what a defense is trying to stop, or what they're trying to take away," Payton said. "I don't know necessarily that both Atlanta and Cleveland were committed to taking deep throws away or preventing the big play, but I think the guys up front have done a good job.

"The backs have done a good job. (And) in order for us to have these runs we've got to be able to block the perimeter, and I would say that we're doing that a little better than we had in years past."

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