Mark Ingram says he's not concerned about making his third season the first one in which he lives up to his Heisman Trophy hype, but he does intend to be a much greater factor in the New Orleans Saints' 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 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 a 2012 first-round pick to acquire him. Ingram has averaged 3.9 yards per carry over the past two seasons. He played 10 games as a rookie and rushed for 474 yards and five touchdowns. Last season, he ran for 602 yards and five touchdowns.
"Of course, I have high expectations for myself as far as individual things," Ingram said. "But my No. 1 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."
Teammate Pierre Thomas told NOLA.com that Ingram needs to regain the mindset he had with the Crimson Tide.
"Play like you did at Alabama, while acknowledging this is not Alabama," Thomas told the website. "He can't listen to all that nonsense. He's got to block that out."
Hampered by injuries during much of his first two years in the NFL, the 5-foot-9 Ingram said he now is as trim and healthy as he has been since turning pro. He said that his weight is around 215 pounds and his goal is to remain below 220 this season.
"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 16 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."
Saints coach Sean 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 also 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.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.