METAIRIE, La. — Mark Ingram started 24 of 39 games at Alabama.
He rushed for 3,261 yards and scored 42 touchdowns in college.
He became the first Crimson Tide player to win a Heisman trophy when he earned it after a standout sophomore season.
And none of that matters to him right now.
“College was college,” Ingram said. “I had a lot of success in college but I’m moving on to a different stage now. We are in the NFL now and you just have to start over.”
In his two NFL seasons, Ingram has been less productive than expected coming off of that impressive career in Tuscaloosa, Ala. He has rushed for just 1,076 yards, averaging 3.9 yards per carry. He has scored five touchdowns in each of his two years with New Orleans as he shares duties in a three-man backfield rotation.
Fellow running back Pierre Thomas has watched Ingram up close and knows just what the third-year running back can give the Saints. It might just be a matter of blocking out the noise, Thomas said, to get Ingram back to being the running back the Saints traded up to draft in 2011.
“I think what he needs to do is play his game,” Thomas said. “Be Mark. Do what you did at Alabama. Knowing this is not Alabama and not college – it’s a little tougher – but play your game. He knows how to play the game. He can’t listen to all that nonsense. That’s one thing. He’s got to block that out.”
“Be you,” Thomas added, as if talking directly to Ingram. “You know what you do. You’re in this league. You made it to this league. Do what you have to do to be Mark Ingram like everyone knows you’re Mark Ingram.”
But to be that Mark Ingram, he’ll have to remain healthy.
Injuries have played a part in the 23-year-old’s lack of production. A toe injury that ultimately required surgery ended his rookie campaign in 2011. A year later, he entered training camp coming off arthroscopic surgery to his right knee, limiting his effectiveness early in the year.
Now he’s healthy and so far in training camp he’s getting what appears to be more snaps with the first-team offense than in the past.
“I know we have high expectations for Mark and he has high expectations for himself,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “He is in great shape right now. I know he is anxious, being healthy, and probably I would say going into his third year as healthy and as good of shape as he has been (since being here). I expect him to be a big part of what we do running the football.”
It’s likely that he’ll be a big part of what the Saints do beyond running the football, too. Payton described Ingram as being more versatile than he gets credit for and the running back agreed.
“When I'm healthy, I feel like the sky is the limit,” Ingram said. “I can do everything. I can do anything that’s asked of me. Pass blocking, I can catch the ball, I can run inside, I can run outside, I can contribute in any way that’s asked of me. That’s what I have been doing ever since I started playing football.”
A key part of showing that was being able to train in the offseason, he said.
And now he might be able to begin meeting expectations, though that’s not what’s on his mind at this moment.
“It’s not about living up to what other people expect you to do,” Ingram said. “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.
“Of course, I have high expectations for myself as far as individual things, but my number one 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, be an explosive player for this team, and do whatever I can to help us win games. That’s my number one priority.”