Saints News | New Orleans Saints |

Saints program cover story: Mark Ingram

Saints running back contributing as a receiver too

Would it have surprised you to learn that after the first four games of this season, Mark Ingram led NFL running backs in receptions (22) and was 10th in the league in yards from scrimmage (407)?

"Yeah, that would be surprising, because I really haven't had too many opportunities to catch the ball in my first few years here," Ingram admitted. "We had (Darren) Sproles and Pierre (Thomas), and those guys were tremendous and I learned a lot from them, being in the film room and learning their tendencies and learning what they're seeing and picking their brains.

"That helped me enhance my game and improve my role in receiving the ball. I'm thankful for those guys. You just have to learn from guys that you've seen have a lot of success. I've learned a lot from those guys and I'm just continuing to improve to add to my game, and be the best I can be."

Would it have surprised you if you were told that his yards accumulated were evenly balanced (204 rushing, 203 receiving), and that he already has a single-season high in receiving yards (the previous high was 145, set last year)?

Would you have believed he was on a pace (101.8 total yards per game) that is 16 more yards per game than he averaged last year, which was the best of his NFL career, that would allow him to smash his single-season high in combined yards in 12 games?

If you were told that, entering tonight's nationally televised game against Atlanta in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Ingram arguably had played his best NFL games in prime time, would you take it as fact or debate the statement?

And if not, would it be because you forgot that in consecutive prime-time games last year, against Green Bay on Sunday night and Carolina on Thursday night, he punished for 172 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries (Green Bay), then grinded for 100 yards and two touchdowns on a career-high 30 carries – and chipped in a 10-yard reception – four days later against the Panthers?

Or that it slipped your memory that, in a Sunday night game against Dallas in 2013, he ran 14 times for 145 yards and a touchdown, and caught two passes for 15 yards? Or that, in the first road playoff victory in franchise history, he ran for 97 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries in a victory over Philadelphia in the 2013 postseason?

Would you believe, or remember?

Then maybe it's time to step back and take stock, and to notice that Ingram, in his fifth season, is becoming the running back that he always said he previously had been, and could be again.

Injury-free and opportunistic, Ingram had 78 touches entering last Sunday's game against Philadelphia (56 carries, 22 catches), a pace (19.8 per game) that essentially would mirror his career-high 19.6 touches per game last year.

But he never has been at 100-plus combined yards per game, already has had the longest reception of his career (59 yards, against Arizona) and though his rushing pace and yards per carry are down, everything else is looking up statistically.

"I feel like just how things have played out, I've had opportunities to be able to show my versatility running the ball inside or outside, catching the ball, picking up pass protection," he said.

"I've always known that I could do that, I've always taken pride in that – being able to do everything, being a football player, being an athlete on the field. I'm excited and I'm thankful and grateful that the opportunity has come where I can show my versatility in the offense and show that I can contribute in any shape or fashion."

Of course, it helps that the injuries that limited him in two of his first three seasons, and kept him out of 11 of the Saints' 32 games in 2011 and '13, have been kept at bay.

Even though Ingram missed three games last year, the Saints turned to him in the running game when his backfield mates (Thomas and Khiry Robinson) both sat out with injuries. He responded with a season that earned him a Pro Bowl invitation.

"It was frustrating at times," Ingram said of the injuries. "(But) it's part of the game. If you play long enough, play enough snaps, you're going to get hurt, unfortunately. But it's definitely frustrating not being able to do what you know you can do, not being able to show what you can do, and I know part of that was because of injuries and part of that was just because my role.

"But I never let it get the best of me. I always continued to focus, continued to improve my game, never let outside perspective change my thoughts and my confidence in myself. I just always continued to be the best I could be, strive to be the best so when I had the opportunities to prove that I could do things, I was ready. I wanted to be ready to grasp my opportunity whenever it came and take full advantage of it."

That's one of the reasons Ingram is popular among his teammates, who named him the recipient of the team's Ed Block Courage Award in 2012, following his comeback from knee and toe surgeries.

Another reason for his popularity? He's the resident funnyman.

You may not know it to look at him, may not suspect at all, but Ingram is comedic – apparently, hilariously so.

The informal poll taken among his teammates says as much; he wins the general election by a landslide, there's no reason for a runoff.

But it pretty much is something that stays in house, reserved mostly for those closest to him and, especially, for his New Orleans Saints teammates.

"I just come out around my guys," he said. "I like to joke around and have fun with them, have a good time. We have long days of work so just to joke around with other, have fun with each other, laugh with each other – that makes the days go by smooth, makes you have fun coming in to work, fun studying in the film room. That's what it's all about, having fun and enjoying what you do.

"I don't really make fun of people too much. I just like to joke around, different little clips we see on the internet or on Instagram or Twitter, just imitate it, impersonate it, laugh at it. It's just a good time, all fun and games."

He's gotten better at making the actual games a lot more fun, too. And if there's a smile on his face, it's because the fifth-year running back has gotten a lot better at what he does, and at helping the Saints' cause on offense.

Likely, the Saints will need him again tonight, and he has shown an ability to deliver in prime time.

"Every single game you approach it as the same, but there's something about those prime time games," he said. "When you see the schedule come out, I'm always looking to see how many prime-time games we have – how many Sunday night games, how many Monday night games, how many 3:30 p.m. games we have.

"There's just something about those prime-time games where you get to perform in front of the national audience. I take every game the same, but it's just something about being under the lights, being on prime time.

"Big players show up in big games and that's something I've heard many years growing up. I take pride in performing in prime time games – in every single game, just doing whatever I can to the best of my ability to put myself in position to help this team win games. That's my ultimate game – to do everything that I can, whatever it may be, to help us win."

Photos of Mark Ingram vs the Philadelphia Eagles. Photos by Michael C. Hebert (New Orleans Saints photos)

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content