METAIRIE, La. -- When New Orleans coach Sean Payton first returned from his suspension after last season, he had a very direct message for running back Mark Ingram.
“He just said that we’re going to get back to running the football,’’ Ingram said.
Without Payton last season, the Saints lacked a productive running game. Beyond the message to Ingram, Payton has publicly said the Saints need to run the ball better than they did last year.
“We just want to be effective in the running game,’’ Ingram said. “When the Saints won the Super Bowl in ’09, they were top 10 in the league in rushing. We know how important running the ball is. We just want to be effective and have one of the best rushing games in the league, because we have the O-line to do it and we have the runners to do it. If we can run the ball effectively, that does nothing but open up the passing game for (quarterback) Drew (Brees) and all the explosive receivers we have. That’s definitely a focal point for us.’’
I have a feeling that Ingram might end up finally being the focal point of the running game. Injuries and a crowded backfield limited Ingram’s production in his first two NFL seasons. But, even with Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas still around, I think Ingram’s role will increase.
The Saints thought enough of Ingram to use a first-round pick on him in 2011. Ingram hasn’t quite lived up to the hype, mainly because he wasn’t getting a lot of opportunities. I think this is the year the opportunities come.