The New Orleans Saints knew all offseason that running back Mark Ingram wouldn’t be around for the first four games, but it’s still been odd for players not to have one of the vocal leaders around the facility early this season.
“It’s been an adjustment for sure,” left tackle Terron Armstead said. “Not just him as a player, him as a person, the energy he brings, the leadership. Mark has a special aura about himself that he just brings that to everybody in the locker room.”
Ingram is in the midst of a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, a penalty that was officially handed down in May. During his suspension, which began Sept. 1, Ingram is not permitted to visit the team facilities.
It’s tough to quantify how much the Saints miss Ingram on the field, especially after Alvin Kamara had a dazzling performance in Week 1, but there’s no doubt the players miss Ingram in the locker room.
“Everybody misses Mark,” Kamara said. “His energy, when it’s not there, you notice. He’s a whole different person on game day. He’s running around, he’s loud, his presence is there, his energy is there. I think he’s a plug for a lot of players. Like, when they look to Mark, they get ready. We just got to find a way to manufacture his energy.”
While Ingram had 1,000-plus rushing yards the past two seasons and has been a fixture in the offense since the Saints took him in the first round in 2011, the team scored 40 points in a Week 1 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, indicating that the offense is operating fine, for now, without him.
However, the Saints ran just 13 times for 43 yards last Sunday. The lack of balance was largely a product of the Saints playing from behind, but perhaps if Ingram was on the field, New Orleans would’ve had a better opportunity to control the pace of the high-speed game.
With Ingram suspensed, it was clear the Saints would increase Alvin Kamara workload a bit after his stellar rookie season in 2017, but the team wanted to avoid overworking the versatile back. Kamara had 141 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns, but that production came as he played a career-high 52 snaps.
Coaches surely hoped Mike Gillislee, whom the team signed after the Patriots released him on cut-down day, would have a bigger role in replacing Ingram’s between-the-tackles running, but Gillislee had just three carries for 9 yards and lost a fumble that the Buccaneers returned for a touchdown.
For the next three weeks, the Saints will have to determine the best way to deploy their running back group that currently includes Kamara, Gillislee and Jonathan Williams, but the team also wants to figure out how to replace his energy and experience.
“We miss him a lot in the locker room,” Williams said. “He’s a leader in the locker room, not only for the running backs, but for the whole offense and the whole team. Not having him in the locker room is definitely a big hit to the team.”
Kamara said he’s been texting with Ingram every day since his suspension began, offering help whenever Kamara needs it with film or other questions about upcoming opponents.
“He’s like a second pair of eyes,” Kamara said.
Ingram has also been involved in the group text between all the running backs, so while he’s gone, he’s still trying to help.
According to Kamara, Ingram has been spending time training with a high school football team in Florida thus far in his suspension.
“He’s got his shoulder pads and his helmet,” Kamara said. “He’s down there getting it in. He’s ready. He just said just keep doing what you do.”
Linebacker Craig Robertson shared a post on his Instagram story Thursday that shows how much the team misses him. While several Saints were in a meeting room eating Wingstop, there was a piece of paper on an empty chair that said “#22.”
“He’s a guy that we want in this locker room, and we wish he could at least be around if he wasn’t able to play,” center Max Unger said. “But we miss him, and I guess we’re adjusting without him. Alvin has been doing a great job, but, yeah, we can’t wait to have him back.”
#SAINTSNEWS #SAINTS #NOLA