Ingram itching to return

by Walter Pierce

Practicing without limitations on Wednesday, running back Mark Ingram looked ready to return to a New Orleans offense that once again ranks among the NFL's best when the Saints play at Detroit on Sunday.

METAIRIE, La. (AP) - Mark Ingram sprinted to his left, turned to his right, snagged a short pass and accelerated up field.

Practicing without limitations on Wednesday, Ingram looked ready to return to a New Orleans offense that once again ranks among the NFL's best when the Saints play at Detroit on Sunday.

However, New Orleans could be without tight end Jimmy Graham, who leads the clubs in receptions, yards receiving and touchdown catches.

Graham wore a helmet to practice and participated in stretches, but otherwise stood around and watched the portion of individual drills open to media. The Saints later announced that Graham sat out the team drills, which are closed to reporters, and coach Sean Payton declined to discuss Graham's prospects for playing against the Lions.

Payton also stopped short of guaranteeing that Ingram would play in Detroit.

"He's doing well and we will kind of see how we handle that on Sunday," Payton said. "Obviously we value depth at that position."

Ingram said he could play with "a little pad" on the hand he broke in Week 2 at Cleveland. The running back needed surgery and missed three games before New Orleans had last weekend off.

"I'm ready to go, full-go, 100 percent full-tilt," Ingram said. "They haven't babied me or eased me into practice, so I've been doing everything - catching, running, blocking."

A former Heisman Trophy winner at Alabama and 2011 first-round draft choice, Ingram looked in his first two games like he might have his best season yet.

He's gained 143 yards on 24 carries - good for a team-high 6 yards per carry. He also scored three touchdowns.

"It was disappointing, frustrating to have an injury," Ingram said. "There wasn't much I could do about it. I had to get the surgery, just try and be positive and it wasn't a long term injury."

The Saints still moved the ball well in his absence, with hard-running second-year pro Khiry Robinson and veteran Pierre Thomas sharing most of the carries.

The Saints rank eighth in the NFL in rushing with about 133 yards per game, and they're averaging 5.2 yards per carry as a team.

Meanwhile, New Orleans ranks second in passing with 309.8 yards per game, and quarterback Drew Brees said he's confident the Saints' offense is dynamic enough to maintain such production if Graham sits out.

"Different guys will have opportunities," Brees said. "If Jimmy's not able to go, we're going to miss him. But I'm really confident those other guys are going to do a great job."

Brees stressed that he has plenty of confidence in veteran tight end Ben Watson as well as second-year tight end Josh Hill, whose seven catches include one for 37-yards and a 34-yard touchdown.

While the Saints are 2-3, moving the ball has not been one of their problems. Their 442.8 yards per game ranks behind only Indianapolis, which averages 444 yards. However, the Saints are 13th in scoring with 26.4 points per game. They've been hurt by 10 turnovers, including Brees' six interceptions.

"I feel like we've run the ball very well. I feel like we've been very balanced. I feel like we've maintained a lot of long drives that ended up in touchdowns," Brees said. "I'd say we've turned the ball over too much, which is my responsibility, more so than anybody."

Brees said the Saints also are not hitting on as many big plays as usual, but added, "You can only take what the defense is giving you. You don't want to read into that too much because then all the sudden you feel like we have to manufacture these big plays, we have to force these big plays, and if they're not there, that's when some of those mistakes come."

Since Payton, who designed the offense, and Brees arrived in New Orleans in 2006, the Saints have never ranked worse than sixth in yards gained for a whole season, and have ranked first four times.

Right tackle Zach Strief has also been with New Orleans since 2006, and noted, "As long as we have Drew and as long as we have coach Payton, I think that we'll be a consistently good offense."

Notes: FB Erik Lorig, who has yet to play this season because of an ankle injury, practiced fully on Wednesday, as did C Jonathan Goodwin, who was knocked out of New Orleans' previous game with a knee bruise. ... Those missing practice included LBs Ramon Humber and Kyle Knox, both with ankle injuries, and CB Patrick Robinson (hamstring).