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John DeShazier: Sleaker, stronger Mark Ingram will be on display in Black and Gold Scrimmage

Alabama product ready for the season

The Mark Ingram we see before us in training camp is the one New Orleans Saints fans have been waiting to see, and the one Ingram says he always has been.

The sleeker, stronger, more explosive model that has wowed during offseason workouts, and will be on display Saturday in the Black and Gold Scrimmage that begins at 8:50 a.m. at the Saints' practice facility, simply is the one Ingram has known the last several years. That one who ran for 1,699 yards and 24 touchdowns as a high school senior, and for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns as a college sophomore, when he won the Heisman Trophy at Alabama.

"I'm the Mark Ingram I've always been," he said. "I can do the same things I've been doing since high school, Alabama. I'm the same player. I've just been getting better, just been improving, trying to be bigger and faster and stronger every year. I'm the same player I've been for a long time.

"I just toned down a little bit, worked a lot on being more explosive. Managing the injuries my first year (a season-ending toe injury required surgery), and coming back I didn't have a chance to work on all my explosion and things like that (last year).

"I just had a healthy offseason, had a lot of time to train before I came into training camp, and I've just been working on being more explosive, been working on my speed, my strength. That was my focus coming into camp, being in great shape."

Without question, his 215 pounds are well distributed over a 5-foot-9 frame. There appears to be a greater acceleration now for the former first-round pick (No. 28 overall in 2011).

Add that to Ingram's ability to be a power runner – he led the Saints in rushing attempts (156), yards (602) and touchdowns (five) – and the result could be the complete NFL back that Ingram aspires to be.

"Here's the thing I'm seeing in him – (he's) very decisive," Saints running backs coach Dan Roushar said. "I think he's been pretty consistent in his reads, so I think his decision making has been very good. I think he's been running with authority. I don't see him trying to make big runs by himself.

"I think he's running within the scheme and attacking things the way he needs to. Those things are a real positive to me. Certainly, there's a lot of room for improvement for each of us, but I like his work ethic. I like the way he's coming out and approaching the game.

"I think one of the things you saw (last year), he started slower than he wanted to coming off injury, different things, ailment. But as the year went on, you saw him get better and better and better. I think he got more comfortable, the game slowed down for him."

In the last four games of the season, Ingram accumulated 37 percent of his season's carries (58), 42 percent of his rushing yards (250) and 40 percent of his touchdowns (two). His per-carry average during that time, 4.3, also was significantly higher than his season average (3.9).
So it has been no surprise that he has been working as the Saints' starting running back in training camp.

The duties will be shared with versatile Pierre Thomas, who enters the season No. 7 on the Saints' all-time rushing list (2,974 yards) and fifth in rushing touchdowns (24), and change-of-pace runner Darren Sproles, the dual threat runner and receiver who also is a splendid returner and set an NFL record for all-purpose yards (2,696) in 2011.

But perhaps Ingram is poised to benefit most from a heavier workload. The potential for increased carries arose when the Saints traded Chris Ivory to the New York Jets.

"I'm just out here trying to get better, no matter what unit I'm with," Ingram said. "The reps are the reps. You get better every time you get a rep. I don't care what unit I work with – whether it's the ones or the twos or whoever it is – as long as I'm out there getting reps and improving as a player, I'm good."

The next chance for improvement will be Saturday, at the scrimmage. The promise of full contact has fueled the enthusiasm of players and fans alike.

"Any time we get to run the ball and get downhill, punish defenders, just make plays," Ingram said, his voice trailing off in wistfulness. "You want to make people miss, you want to punish people when it's necessary. You just want to make plays for the team."

There's reciprocity in that thought because certainly, the team wants him to make plays. The more he does, the better the Saints' already-potent offense will be.

"The one thing I talked to him a lot about was, with our zone run game, finding the tempo to allow the offensive line to do their work and then making the proper decision" Roushar said. "He wants to be outstanding at what he does and I think it reflects in his work ethic and his play."

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