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Saints program cover story: Mark Ingram

You're still out there, and Mark Ingram II II knows it. The New Orleans Saints running back is an active social media participant, is prone to post about and respond to myriad events and issues, from jovial to sports to social change, and all points in between. He's interactive and engaging, and not just with teammates or other professional athletes.

Ingram knows that despite coming off of a career year (1,043 rushing yards and six touchdowns and 319 receiving yards and four more scores in 2016), and despite having crafted himself into one of the team's most reliable offensive producers, the criticism and doubts remain. And to a certain degree, they motivate the seven-year veteran who is now second all-time on the Saints' rushing list, 1,186 yards behind Deuce McAllister's 6,096 rushing yards entering today's game against Washington in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. But only to a certain degree.

"You see them, but anything negative that comes across to my social media, and I may delete it or tune it out," he said. "But you definitely see stuff. You try not to pay attention to it.

"Doubters and critics always kind of make you put a chip on your shoulder, still fuel a fire just because you want to prove them wrong. But there are much more people that care about me and love me and want to see me do well, that that's what I'm more focused on – being positive, being confident, taking in the things from the people that matter, the people that I work with every day.

"That's what's most important to me. The critics and all that, you see it, but it really doesn't bother me too much because it doesn't matter to me what they think or how they feel. What matters to me is the people close to me, people that know me, people that love me, people that want to see me do well genuinely. If I do well or not, they're still going to love me."

Critic or supporter, there probably should be a lot of love, or at least a growing fondness, for Ingram this season, as the 7-2 Saints near midseason in first place in the NFC South and on a seven-game winning streak, with much of the hard work on offense carried on the back of Ingram.

After a slow start – 42 carries for 170 yards and no touchdowns in the first four games – Ingram again has been the multi-purpose back that he has evolved into in the NFL. Ingram's 502 rushing yards and seven touchdowns since Oct. 15 lead the league in both important statistical categories, while his team has moved into third place in the NFL in rushing yards per game. Overall his 672 yards rushing ranks sixth in the NFL, while he's tied for first with the seven touchdowns in the last five contests.

See the best moments from Saints running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara the Week 10 match up against the Buffalo Bills.

And it happened despite a thinly sliced pie for running backs in the first four games when Ingram shared the load with rookie Alvin Kamara, and future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson who was traded to Arizona before the Detroit game. Immediately, Ingram's production jumped.

It wasn't the first time Ingram has been in a crowded Saints backfield; Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, Chris Ivory and Tim Hightower have been among the teammates with which he has shared carries and catches.

And it wasn't the first time that he emerged on the other side as a better player.

I'm just going, man. I'm just going. I'm just pushing for everything," he said. "I need everything, by any means. I'm just working my butt off. I always prayed for the opportunity to be able to prove what I can do and to be able to showcase my abilities.

"I've believed that I was preparing myself for when the opportunity did present itself, that I was always ready. That whenever my number was called, I wouldn't be shocked by the moment, that I would be prepared because of how I've trained, how I've worked, how I've prepared myself to be a complete player and to thrive when my opportunity presented itself.

"That's what I'm thinking about, that's all I'm worried about, is continuing to excel, continuing to raise the bar, and continuing to get better. I want to be the greatest ever. That's what drives me every day. If you're not trying to be the greatest, I don't know why you're doing it."

Ingram does it and does it well. Quarterback Drew Brees always has been effusive in his praise of the former Heisman Trophy winner, calling him one of the league's most complete and underrated backs.

He blocks. He runs. He catches. There are no triggers as to what the Saints offense will do when he's lined up in the backfield because his versatility eliminates indicators. It's why Ingram is content to let the production do the talking.

"I just try to let the body of work speak for itself," he said. "If you're a good player, you don't have to say you're a good player. Other people will answer it for you. Your play will speak for it, your production will speak for it."

"I'm confident in myself, and I feel that way, but at the same time, I don't feel like I can just stand up myself and say, 'I am this,' or, 'I am a great player,' or, 'I have been doing good.' Hopefully, I don't have to defend to anybody. I'm just going to continue to work, continue to push myself to be the greatest ever.

"That's what keeps me going, that's what keeps me motivated, and playing for all the people that love me and care about me. The Lord put me in this position, and I'm just using my talents to give back to Him as well. So it's really about all those who care about me and love me and give me confidence and give me that support."

That includes the support he receives on the home front. Ingram now is a married man and a father of two.

"It's humbled me and brought me down to earth because what's really important to me is my wife and my children, my mother, my father, my sisters – all those people who love me and care about me and support me whether I play football again or not," he said. "But especially marriage and children, it settles you down.

"It gives you a focus, gives you goals as to what want to accomplish, not only for you but your wife and your children. How you want their future to be, how you want their lives to be when they get older."

"You realize what's important and you focus on what is important. I think it helps you thrive in your life. You have a family that is dependent on you. My kids are dependent on me, my wife. I don't take that lightly. I run with that with me. Every single time I carry the ball, I carry them and everything I want to accomplish for them."

Too, he helps carry the hopes of his football team. And this one, Ingram believes, has the potential to be special. "I've been on a couple of outstanding teams," he said.

"I've been on a championship team at Alabama, my freshman year at Alabama went 12-0. That '11 team here that '13 team here, but there's just something about this team."

"We all believe in each other, we all have faith in one another. When we're in the huddle, there's no fear in anyone's eyes. Everybody is confident in each other. You know that man is going to do his job, you know he's going to fight for you. That gives you confidence."

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