As the only Heisman Trophy winner in Alabama's illustrious history, and one of two first-round picks by the Saints in 2011, running back Mark Ingram has spent the past two years in a state full of LSU fans who were eager to enjoy the days when the former Crimson Tide star's success no longer came at their expense.
METAIRIE, La. (AP) - Mark Ingram says he's not concerned about making his third season the first one in which he lives up to his Heisman hype.
He does intend to be a much greater factor in New Orleans offense, whether that shows up in the statistics or not.
"Everyone has expectations all the time," Ingram said. "It's not about living up to what other people expect you to do. It's about being a great teammate, improving every day, and being the best football player you can be to help your team win games and ultimately win a championship."
As the only Heisman Trophy winner in Alabama's illustrious history, and one of two first-round picks by the Saints in 2011, Ingram has spent the past two years in a state full of LSU fans who were eager to enjoy the days when the former Crimson Tide star's success no longer came at their expense.
Based on fan comments on radio talk shows or in internet chat rooms, many of those fans feel like they're still waiting for Ingram to validate the Saints' decision to trade away a 2012 first-round pick in order to acquire him.
"Of course, I have high expectations for myself as far as individual things," Ingram said. "But my number one thing is just coming out here and showing that I can do anything that is asked of me every single time I set foot on that field and be an explosive player for this offense."
Hampered by injuries during much of his first two years in the NFL, Ingram said he now is as trim and healthy as he has been since turning pro. He looked it on Sunday, the first time this training camp in which players wore full pads and engaged in some contact. His runs included a burst up the left side of the field that might have gone for a big gain had the play not been dead at first contact.
"I have finally had a healthy offseason," Ingram said. "My rookie year I missed some games. Last year and (the 2012) offseason, I was just recovering from some offseason surgeries, but I played all sixteen games and I finished strong. I'm not frustrated. I can definitely improve in different aspects and things like that, but I am trying to get better."
Ingram missed six games his rookie season with heel and toe injuries, finishing with 474 yards and five touchdowns.
Last year, he started slow following rehabilitation from knee surgery, but began to look stronger in the second half of the season. He still has yet to gain 100 yards in a single game, but his yards per carry averages were strong when he saw action against Philadelphia (6.3), Oakland (5.6), the New York Giants (5.2) and Tamp Bay (6.4).
He finished his second season with 602 yards on 156 carries - an average of nearly 4 yards per rush - and scored five TDs. During the Philadelphia game, Ingram also caught two passes out of the backfield for 23 yards, and coaches are hoping to see more of that from him this season.
"He catches the ball well out of the backfield," coach Sean Payton said. "I think he's someone that does a lot of things well. We're not just limited to a certain type of offense when he's in the game."
Payton said there were reasons to be patient with Ingram the past two seasons, including his injuries and the fact that the Saints not only pass a lot, but had been splitting carries among four running backs, including Chris Ivory, who was traded to the New York Jets during the 2013 draft.
"Year 3 is important" for Ingram, Payton said. "To his specific case, he's healthier than he's been and his weight's down. We expect him to play well and have a good season. ... Some guys, it happens right away. The challenge at running back here is sometimes those snaps are being split and it's a little different from" other positions.
The 5-foot-9 Ingram said his weight is around 215 pounds, and that his goal is to remain below 220 this season. He expects that trimming down will make him more dynamic.
"I can do everything. I can run inside, outside, pass block, catch the ball, and be an explosive player," Ingram said. "That's what I try to show them every time they put me out there in practice. ... I definitely want to show that I am more versatile."
Notes: Undrafted rookie LB Ray Shipman left practice early with what Payton described as a mild hamstring pull. ... WR Jarred Fayson still has yet to practice after the team said he became dehydrated during last Thursday's conditioning test. ... WR Marques Colston (foot), CB Patrick Robinson (knee) and LB Victor Butler (knee) remained listed as physically unable to perform. Colston and Robinson are expected to return during the preseason. ... Safety Kenny Vaccaro, the Saints' first-round pick, threw running back Travaris Cadet to the turf during 11-on-11 drills in which players were supposed to avoid finishing tackles. Afterward, Payton gave Vaccaro mixed reviews as it related to the rookie's enthusiasm. "He is someone that flies around," Payton said. "He is someone who is very instinctive. We don't necessarily want to throw our own players on the ground, that's not the drill. We will get that cleaned up, but he is an instinctive player and I know he is anxious to be in the pads. One of the things you find with a young player, especially rookies ... they feel that sense of urgency to make an impression and so the key thing is making it the right way."