Photos of Mark Ingram from the 2015 season. Photos by Michael C. Hebert (New Orleans Saints photos)
Running back Mark Ingram has been placed on injured reserve with a torn left rotator cuff, prematurely ending his most productive NFL season.
Through the New Orleans Saints' first 12 games, Ingram, a Pro Bowler last season and the team's second first-round draft pick in 2011 (No. 28 overall), had totaled 1,174 yards from scrimmage (769 rushing, 405 receiving) and had set career highs in receiving yards and receptions (50).
Last year, he had set his career high with 1,109 yards from scrimmage (964 rushing yards, 145 receiving).
In addition to being the team's leading rusher this season – a spot he likely will keep; the second leading active rusher is C.J. Spiller, with 108 yards – Ingram also had a team-leading six rushing touchdowns.
The Saints' (4-8) first game without Ingram will be Sunday, against the Buccaneers (6-6) at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
"He had the shoulder (an AC joint sprain) and then after this past game (against Carolina, when Ingram ran for 56 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, and caught four passes for 23 yards), he had another MRI done and there was more damage done to it," Coach Sean Payton said Thursday. "At that point, he knew, the club knew, that he was going to have it fixed.
"He's getting it done today and we'll go through the offseason rehab. But it got worse after the Carolina game. He's tough and I think was playing good football for us, but after this MRI it was clear."
The surgery will be performed by Dr. James Andrews.
"He means a lot," quarterback Drew Brees said. "Obviously, he has been tremendous and been extremely reliable in all phases of the offense, obviously running the football and protection and catching the ball out of the backfield. I really feel like over the last two years especially he has kind of come into his own.
"I would consider him one of the top backs in the league, all-purpose, can do everything and just a great guy to be around and great locker room guy. I don't know if there is a guy more liked than him. (He) comes to work every day, (is a) great practice player and a guy you can count on (on) gameday, so obviously if he has to miss time, we would miss him."
The primary rushing responsibilities now will rest with Spiller (31 carries) and Tim Hightower (12 carries, 48 yards), with a bit of rookie Marcus Murphy perhaps sprinkled in. Spiller has been most effective as a receiver (29 catches for 216 yards and a touchdown), Hightower will be playing in his fifth game as a Saint on Sunday (but 58th overall) and Murphy only has been a returner this season (27 punt returns for 255 yards and a touchdown, and 12 kickoffs for 300 yards).
Spiller had been slowed by knee surgery in training camp.
"We're going to get a chance to see more now," Payton said. "I think the training camp injury set him back some, and then it's just a matter of the confidence and the explosion off that knee. He'll play a significant role, as will Tim Hightower and even (Marcus) Murphy."
Hightower was released after a strong training camp, and re-signed Nov. 4. He hadn't played prior to this season since 2011, when he suffered a knee injury and his recovery was slowed by complications.
"Through training camp, we got a chance to see him run," Payton said. "He finally got some touches in a regular-season game against Washington (11 carries, 46 yards). He's competitive, he's tough, he's been in that spotlight and I think that, for him, it's the confidence that the injury and the leg is 100 percent. I'm excited to see him play just like I am with C.J. It'll be a good opportunity."
Said Brees: "You hate to lose guys that mean so much to your offense, but it's the next man up mentality and Tim Hightower is a guy that has been looking for an opportunity for a while and he will get that, and C.J. Spiller as well and then Marcus Murphy.
"We will have a role for all of those guys and they will all get an opportunity and be ready. You never know how things shake out, and you have seen us play long enough to know that we have a lot of guys that can be shuffled in and out, and they will have a job and a role and we'll coach them up on how to do it and they will do it well."