Mark Ingram clearly has no intention of playing second fiddle to Adrian Peterson in the New Orleans Saints’ backfield.
That doesn’t mean there will be an internal rivalry or any animus in the club’s running backs room, or that Ingram is even sensitive to the considerable attention Peterson’s arrival in New Orleans has received.
Peterson “is one of the best running backs that’s ever walked on this planet, especially in our generation,” Ingram said during Saints minicamp this week.
“He is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, clearly, right?” Ingram continued. “I’ve admired him ever since he was a freshman at Oklahoma. We’re in the same backfield now and we’re competing and making each other better.”
While Peterson is 32 and coming off a 2016 meniscal tear that required season-ending knee surgery after only three games, the 27-year-old Ingram is returning from a 1,000-yard season rushing and also had more than 300 yards receiving. A former Heisman Trophy winner with Alabama and 2011 first-round draft choice by New Orleans, Ingram’s career was injury plagued and relatively unproductive early on. Last season, however, he was among the NFL’s best in yards-per-carry at 5.1, which might be the most accurate measure of how well he played in an offense that has long revolved around quarterback Drew Brees’ prolific passing.
“Anytime I have the opportunity to touch the ball regularly, rushing or passing, I am going to be productive,” Ingram said. “I know the last three years I have had the best three years of my career. I have only been getting better.”
Ingram said he and Peterson will keep one another sharp because they “both want to be the best at what we do ... and we’re both going to work our butts off to make sure that happens.”
“There’s no personal vendetta,” Ingram added. “We just come out here and compete.”
Ingram said that off the field he and Peterson have been getting along well and sharing information about their approach to playing their position.
Ingram noted that he and Peterson recently discussed how to balance patience, vision, decisiveness and aggression when trying to get first-down yardage on third and short.
Ingram said putting his head down and barreling forward toward the first sign of an opening has been his inclination, but sometimes a choice he regretted because, “If you would have followed your read and followed the guard outside, you would have had a 30-yard run.”
Ingram recalled Peterson telling him, “I’ve noticed that in that time you just have to slow down and trust your eyes.”
Peterson said he has been impressed with Ingram.
“He’s a hard worker and he’s been helping me a lot trying to pick up this new terminology,” Peterson said. “Each running back has their own style, so there might be things that he sees that I might miss and vice versa.”
Meanwhile, Brees is pleased by the prospect of being able to enter games with both veteran running backs in the game plan.
“Obviously, there is a ton of excitement around the signing of Adrian Peterson, but let’s not forget that we have Mark Ingram,” Brees said during minicamp this week. “The combination of those two guys is what makes us even more formidable.”
Brees led the NFL in passing last season . At 38, he is showing no sign of slowing down, but doesn’t seem to mind the idea that New Orleans might be more inclined to run the ball than in recent seasons.
Center Max Unger, who sat out minicamp this week while rehabilitating from foot surgery, said that as much as the Saints have tended to throw, they always wanted to be proficient at running the ball when the situation calls for it.
“Obviously, with the guys we have in our backfield now, that’s going to be maybe a little bit more appealing,” Unger said.
Added right tackle Zach Strief: “It probably makes sense to try and take some of the burden off of Drew, to try and keep him clean and that goes hand in hand with running the football effectively.”