When Alvin Kamara looks around the New Orleans Saints' locker room, among the teammates he sees are a healthy quarterback in Jameis Winston, a healthy returning receiver in Michael Thomas and a couple of valuable additions to the receiving corps in veteran Jarvis Landry and rookie Chris Olave.
What he doesn't envision as prominently this season – and with the returnees and additions, hopes to not see nearly as much – is the 'X' affixed to his back that he saw a good portion of last season, when Thomas missed the entire season, Winston missed the final 10 games, Landry labored in Cleveland and Olave shined at Ohio State. The Saints open the regular season Sunday against the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
"I think it was (a bigger defensive focus on me)," Kamara said Thursday. "Any time some guys go down, I felt like I was sometimes on an island a little bit as far as the focus. But that doesn't stop anything. I keep doing what I've got to do.
"But for a defense it's a little bit easier to hone in on one or two guys rather than four or five guys. That's what's going to have to happen this year, and we all know it. Everybody is ready."
Kamara, perhaps more than most, is ready for it. The two-time All-Pro, who has been named to the Pro Bowl after each of his first five seasons, carried a career-high 240 time for 898 yards and four touchdowns last season in 13 games. Previously, his high was 194 carries in 15 games, in 2018.
"Take some eyes off me," said Kamara, who also caught 47 passes for 439 yards and five touchdowns last year. "We've got Chris who came in, he had a great camp, he's smart already and he's hungry. I think he's kind of got the same mentality and swag that (running back) Mark (Ingram) and Mike and me, that we all have. He just wants to eat.
"Jarvis coming in, new system and he picked it up quick. He's ready to make plays and he's looking at every situation like, 'What can I do to help? What can I do to make the offense better?' That's all you can ask for.
"You know Jameis. He's excited as hell to be back. Foaming at the mouth, hyperventilating. But that's why we love Jameis, because he's a baller. He loves the game and he wants us to win so bad and he wants to do everything he can to help us win.
"And then me, past two years a couple of little injuries, missed a couple of games, but I'm as focused as ever. I'm always focused every year, but as focused as ever this year because I feel like we have the pieces that we need, I think we have the minds that we need, because this game is so mental. A lot of guys miss that, but I think we have a group that understands the mental side of the game and can think the game."
The consensus is that Kamara also has the physical part down, too. Coach Dennis Allen, who returned to the franchise in 2015 and has witnessed all of Kamara's NFL career, said Kamara had his best training camp.
"I feel good," Kamara said. "Year 6, I feel like I know a lot. I feel like, like every other offseason, I think my preparation is what leads me into camp. So I had a healthy offseason and I just came in ready and focused."
Partly, the reward was that Kamara was named a team captain for the first time.
"It means a lot," he said. "Everybody was kind of laughing and joking, like, 'You've been a cap.' But just to get the 'C' on my jersey, it's definitely meaningful. It's my teammates voting for me."
And that partly is attributable to Kamara's willingness to tutor, teach and hold teammates accountable.
"I think, you can ask any of these dudes – young, older, vet – I give my two cents whenever I see something," he said. "I'm more, like, intimate I think, more one on one. I'll go up to a dude and pull him and tell him something. I think everybody knows that, they know I'm not the most vocal dude. But I talk when it's necessary. It's been that since I've been here, I feel like I lead by example.
"We set a certain standard. We say that every year, I think that's an echoing message, we set a certain standard in this locker room and on this team over the years, especially since I've been here. When I feel like that level of competitiveness or grind kind of drops a little bit, that's when I give my two cents."
Kamara, who's fast approaching two franchise records, has earned the respect.
With 68 career touchdowns, he's five shy of breaking Marques Colston's franchise record. And with 47 career rushing touchdowns, he's five short of breaking Mark Ingram's franchise record (though, with Ingram on the active roster, the all-time record could increase).
But the numbers never have impressed Kamara as much as the wins. And the numbers and wins could come easier this season with a healthy group on offense, which could help New Orleans revert to some of the offensive explosiveness that became a franchise staple from 2006-20.
"I think we will," he said. "I think this is what we're used to seeing, from everybody that's been here, high-powered play-makers and healthy. That's the key word, a lot of guys just back healthy, with Jameis coming back and Mike coming back healthy, even on our offensive line guys being healthy. I'm excited because we're all healthy and we're all ready and everybody is just itching to get back on the field together."
D.A. IS OK: Kamara gave his stamp of approval to Allen, who previously was New Orleans' defensive coordinator before being named head coach this offseason. "I like D.A.," he said. "As a player, obviously I'm on the other side of the ball, but since I've been here, D.A. has been cool. I think he's about his business, straight-forward. He demands, every day, out of his guys the utmost work, drive, push, grit – he demands that every day. I think with him being the head coach, it's no drop off, there's not really any change. A couple of scheduling things, but other than that, it's like we didn't miss a beat, really."
Of the schedule adjustments, Kamara said, "Some favorable, some just necessary. I think I'm the first one to go up to him every time we get something in the schedule like a little kink or something, and I'm like, 'Is that negotiable?' And he'll be like, 'Not right now,' or he'll say, 'No,' or, 'Yes.' That's what I respect with D.A. He's straight up and down, he's not going to sugarcoat with you. He's going to tell you yes or no."