METAIRIE, La. — It’s not that Mark Ingram doesn’t strike an imposing figure.
At 5-foot-9, 215 pounds, he’s definitely a physical presence on a football field.
No, it was that his early season stats and it was his usage that made you wonder.
Through seven games, the former first-round pick was averaging just 2.9 yards per carry and had just 134 yards rushing.
Eight weeks later, Ingram’s appears to finally be getting going.
“I think I am starting to play the best football I have played since I came into the league,” the second-year back said. “Just being able to get the ball, get into a rhythm, get a feel for the game and how the defense is playing, just busting a sweat and getting into the rhythm of the game that definitely helps.”
With two games to go in the regular season, Ingram is now the team’s leading rusher with 510 yards. His yards-per-carry average has been boosted to a respectable 4.1 yards thanks to him rushing for at least 60 yards in four of the past seven games.
Against Tampa Bay this past Sunday, Ingram gained 90, the second-most yards he has compiled in a single game. He averaged a season-high 6.4 yards-per-carry on 14 totes.
“It’s funny; I think he is one of those backs that he gets stronger as the game goes on,” Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said.
Yet, even the youngster understands why he hasn’t been given the ball like, say, an Adrian Peterson or a Marshawn Lynch.
Ingram admits that it’s easier to get into a groove when he keeps getting handed the ball. But he knows that just doesn’t happen in the Saints’ offense.
“We have five backs and a lot of great receivers, tight ends, all that,” Ingram said. “There’s only one football and you can only get it around to so many people at a time.”
Ingram’s resurgence, if you want to call it that, also is due in part to his health. His rookie season was hampered by a series of maladies, including a sprained toe that ended his freshman NFL season early.
He started this season with a pitch count of sorts, spending time sidelined during preseason while recovering from offseason surgeries to clean up his right knee and toe.
That has likely helped him play in all 14 games this season, the first time he hasn’t missed a game since his sophomore year at Alabama, when he won the Heisman Trophy while guiding the Crimson Tide to the BCS national title.
“I had to come back from the knee earlier but for the most part, I feel I’ve been pretty healthy all year,” Ingram said. “But definitely I’m feeling strong, feeling fresh. It’s Week 16 we’re going into and I still feel great.”
Now he’s just trying to continue to learn the game in the NFL.
It’s different from college and he’s coming close to figuring out exactly what works best for him, veteran experience that should help him from here on out.
“You kind of get into a routine what works for you and what works for you body,” Ingram said. “That’s what it’s all about, figuring out what works for you.”
“I hand it to Mark, he has worked hard and things have come to him,” Vitt said. “As far as I know this is the healthiest he has been. He had some nicks in OTAs and he was a little banged up, but he has worked hard and I think he is one of those backs the more you feed him, the more he is comfortable.”
And that should only serve to help the Saints in the future.