METAIRIE, La. (AP) - Mark Ingram could see that the New Orleans Saints’ offense was doing fine without him while he was at home in Florida, watching on television like any other fan during his four-game suspension.
The veteran running back also would like to think New Orleans could be even better with him in the game plan, particularly in light of how fresh and motivated he feels after spending a month away from the club.
“I’ve had a lot of stuff pent up and built up and I’m ready to go. I’m hungry and ready to play ball and just help our team,” said Ingram, whose suspension stemmed from his use of a banned substance. “They’ve been playing well, so I’m just trying to make us stronger and make us more explosive.”
Ingram joins a unit that has averaged 418.3 yards and 34.3 points per game. Alvin Kamara, the 2017 offensive rookie of the year, has gotten more work in Ingram’s absence and has responded by devastating defenses with his dynamism on a variety of runs and receptions.
Kamara leads the NFL with 611 yards from scrimmage (275 rushing, 336 passing) and is tied with several players for the NFL lead in TDs with six.
“He’s been a monster, man, just being able to carry the load and what he’s doing is special,” Ingram said.
Now the Saints will see if Ingram and Kamara - a tandem called “Boom and Zoom” by many fans - can again co-exist in the same backfield as well as they did last season.
“I’m not worried about it,” Ingram said. “I’m going to just do me. I’m not Alvin. Alvin’s not me so I’m just going to do what I do, do what I’ve been doing to get to this point in my career.”
Saints coach Sean Payton said he will have to “figure out the balance” of snaps between the two Pro Bowl running backs starting with Monday night’s game against the Washington Redskins.
“Of course, you have a little bit more versatility with someone with Mark’s experience and I know it will be good for us offensively to have him back,” Payton said.
Although the Saints have been among the NFL’s top offenses through the first four weeks, Payton said Ingram’s return is “significant in a number of ways,” ranging from his aptitude in pass protection to the way his presence allows the Saints to reduce the physical toll on Kamara.
“We talked all offseason about how this first month was going to be without Mark,” Payton recalled. “The idea was for us to kind of keep those touches (for Kamara) in a similar area (to last season), the playing time in a similar area - and of course we weren’t able to do that. In other words, his numbers did increase, and yet there’s a wear and tear that takes place with that. When you’re looking at a 16-week season, we look at it as having two outstanding running backs and I think they complement each other extremely well.”
Redskins coach Jay Gruden said Ingram’s return “changes a lot” because of how much harder it is for defenses to anticipate where the ball will go when both Ingram and Kamara are on the field together.
“Those two guys being in the game together, it’s a tough deal,” Gruden said. “You know in-between-the-tackle runs will be more prevalent now. The power running game is back up and running. The things that they haven’t it done without Ingram, they might do this week.”
Saints players often refer to Ingram as the consummate teammate - someone whose energy, unselfishness and work ethic are contagious.
Ingram’s affection for his teammates was apparent last Sunday night when he drove out to the airport to meet the team after New Orleans’ victory over the New York Giants.
“I was excited that they won, so I just wanted to experience that a little bit,” Ingram said.
Left tackle Terron Armstead described the scene at the airport as “just joy,” adding, “Mark is a guy loved by the entire locker room and organization. It’s just his energy that he brings. His positivity he brings to the team.”
“Mark is a huge addition,” Armstead added. “I feel like our offense works best when - not just the offense, our entire team works best when the run game is going. When we can impose our will on opposing defenses.”
Ingram spent the past month in Florida, staying in shape with former NFL receiver Anquan Bolden - a long-time workout partner.
“He’s retired, but he goes to work out every single day,” Ingram said. “It was good to have a buddy to be able to work with and not just be out there putting in the work by myself.”
Saints players and Payton said Ingram looks ready.
“I mean, he wasn’t gone for a year-and-a-half, or been a castaway on an island,” Payton said. “It was four weeks. He’s in good shape.”
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