Before boarding a plane to leave the Big Apple where he was chosen by the New Orleans Saints with the 28th pick in the NFL Draft, RB Mark Ingram took the time out to talk to New OrleansSaints.com. The University of Alabama product discussed his sympathy for the victims of the tornadoes in Tuscaloosa and throughout the state, discussed his recent connection to New Orleans, as well as what he hopes to do on the field in his new home.
You spent three years in Tuscaloosa and quickly became one of the most popular players to ever put on a Crimson Tide uniform. What are your feelings about the devastation that the town is going through right now in the wake of the tornadoes?
Ingram: I definitely send my highest prayers out to everybody in Alabama. Alabama has been a very special place to me for the past three and a half years of my life, especially Tuscaloosa, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. To see the pictures and videos of what happened is very devastating and saddening. I am willing to do whatever it takes to help out and give back. They've supported me so much throughout my years there and I want to give the same support back to them.
On one hand, yesterday was probably one of the most exciting days of your life. Yet on the other, you had to have some real concern about a lot of your friends back near campus. Can you discuss how you balance those emotions?
Ingram: I just wanted to give them something to be proud of. We had four Alabama players get drafted in the first round, so just to give Alabama something to be proud of, give Tuscaloosa something to be proud of, and give them something to still shine a bright light on is something that we were all proud to do.
A large part of your preparation for the draft was based here in New Orleans. Can you talk about some of the players on the team that you got to know?
Ingram: I know Tracy Porter, Robert Meachem, and Marques Colston; we all train together, so I have a good relationship with all those guys. I've been joking around with Tracy about giving me (the jersey number) 22.
Speculation leading into the draft had you and the Saints possibly being a match. When the Saints were on the clock with the 24th pick, what were you feeling like?
Ingram: Nothing really, I was just really waiting on hearing my name called. That's it.
Did you get to know Cameron Jordan at all in the time leading up to the draft?
Ingram: Me and Cam have been running into each other so much in the last 24 hours. He's actually sitting ten feet away from me. So yeah we have been spending a good amount of time together.
You played for a very well-known head coach at Alabama in Nick Saban and you competed against some of the top programs in the country in the SEC. How did that prepare you for what you are expecting to face in terms of defense in the pros?
Ingram: Well it's the best conference in the country. The guys are big, strong, fast. A lot of the guys drafted in the first round played in the SEC and guys I played with/against like Marcell Dareus, Nick Fairley, Patrick Peterson. All those guys came off the board in the top five. Those are the type of guys I played against in college. So I definitely feel ready to take the next step and I think that anybody who comes out of Coach Saban's program is a little ahead of the curve because of how he develops his players physically, mentally and as men.
When people see your running style, they see a powerful, low to the ground runner that has an ability to make defenders miss and also to not go down on initial contact. How do you learn a style of running like that?
Ingram: It's just God-given gifts I've been blessed with. I try to get the most out of each play. I run the ball with a purpose on each play, whether it be a 3rd and 1 or a 70-yarder. Whatever I can do to help the team make plays, win games, and win a championship.
An important part of your game is your willingness to pick up blitzers and get into them, as opposed to just getting in their way. How hard of a skill is that to learn and where did you learn to excel at it?
Ingram: First and foremost you have to be a student of the game: learn the terminology, learn your assignment, study film, read the defensive strategy and be prepared for whatever the defense throws at you. So I would have to thank Coach (Burton) Burns, my running back coach at Alabama because he put so much emphasis on executing the block and he prepared me to be a good pass protector.
You also are a guy that has a reputation of not being a fumble-prone running back. Sean Payton is known to be a guy that simply doesn't tolerate carelessness with the football. How did you learn at an early age the ability to not put the ball on the ground and how much of an emphasis has that been for you in your technique?
Ingram: As a running back, the worst thing you can do is fumble the football. You can't help the team out if you don't have the ball. You can't score any points if you don't have the ball, so it's essential for a running back to be able to take care of the ball. It's something you have to take pride in and something you have to practice with repetition until it becomes second nature to hold the ball high-and-tight even through traffic. It's something I've taken pride in my whole entire football career for the simple fact that if I don't have the ball, I can't make anything happen or help the team win games.
Leading up to the draft, the fans were really pushing for the Saints to draft you and were ecstatic when the Saints traded up to 28 with the Patriots and selected you. Who from the Saints called you and what was the conversation like?
Ingram: They called me and said: "Mark, we just traded back into the first round and we're about to grab you." It really made me happy and put a huge smile on my face. I talked to Coach Payton and Mickey Loomis and they told me they were excited to have me and asked if I was ready to be a Saint. I'm really happy about the situation, I'm going to a team that has a great players and great leadership. I'm really excited to be a part of a first-class organization like the Saints.
You trained very hard leading up to the draft and have forged a relationship with your strength coach that you said would continue for a long time into the future. Most players sort of move on after the pre-draft process, but you have said this is something you are determined to continue with.
Ingram: Yeah, that's my trainer. I was going to train with him regardless of where I ended up. Whether I was in Seattle or Arizona or wherever else I would've been, I would've trained with him in the off-season, but now that I'm going to be in New Orleans, I will be able to train with him all the time. Its great and it will definitely help me out.
The knock on you coming into the draft according to some people is that you lack homerun speed. However, there are very few clips of you ever getting caught from behind and you have 31 runs of 20 yards or longer in the last two years. It seems like maybe you have a gear that can't be measured on a stopwatch?
Ingram: I mean sometimes you got to turn on the film. Some guys don't always have the fastest 40 time. But on film, they play fast, play hard, and make plays. Sometimes you just have to watch the film and judge it by that.
People probably think of Mark Ingram as a pounding, tone-setting running back that wasn't asked to do much in the passing game at Alabama. How would you describe your ability to catch the ball?
Ingram: I love catching the ball, it's one of my favorite things to do. Being able to lineup out wide or run routes from out of the backfield and catch the ball, that's one of my favorite things to do. I think I caught somewhere between sixty and seventy balls at Alabama and those were basically just check-downs and screens. I didn't really have many times where I spread out wide and caught the ball. But I love catching the ball and being able to bring a different dimension to the game. I like to be able to run inside/outside and catch the ball. I like to be a versatile back that can affect the game in many different phases.
Passions and loyalties run deep in this region and people love their LSU Tigers around here. You have a pretty good rep in the locker room in Roman Harper who is never shy about professing his loyalties to Alabama. Do you know Roman well, and what's it going to be like to have him in your corner?
Ingram: Roman actually texted me last night after the draft saying that he was so happy to have another Alabama guy there with him. I'm excited to have kind of a brother from Alabama to be there as well. I've known him ever since I first got to Alabama three years ago because he always comes back and shows his love. I am grateful that he's going to be there because I know he's going to be a positive support system for me.