Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
METAIRIE, La. – Mark Ingram went from one loaded backfield at the University of Alabama to another loaded backfield in New Orleans.
The Saints moved up into the first round to pick Ingram, a former Heisman Trophy winner.
They jettisoned Reggie Bush in training camp.
Coach Sean Payton said early on that he wanted to find more balance in the offense.
In other words, you’d think the Saints were making room to make Ingram the featured back.
But they haven’t and he doesn’t care.
“I shared the football my whole career at Alabama,” Ingram said. “I ran behind Glen Coffee my freshman year. Split it three ways my sophomore year. Then we split it the majority two ways last year. I’m accustomed to splitting carries and it’s nothing new to me.”
Still, the Saints are using Ingram and their using him a lot.
He has a team-high 62 rushes for 216 yards and two touchdowns and has caught six passes for 17 yards.
Ingram has a league-high eight rushing attempts on third down, converting a league-best six of them into first downs.
The rookie, who at Alabama was used to getting into a rhythm in games despite being paired with Trent Richardson, said the way Payton uses running backs takes some getting used to.
Yet, he’s happy doing whatever Payton needs him to do.
“He’s the head coach,” Ingram said. “He knows what’s best for us and he’s going to put us in the best position where we can have success. I don’t question him. Whatever he asks, that’s what I do.”
Payton knew early on that he’d be able to trust Ingram, who first stood out in training camp when he ran over safety Roman Harper during goal line in a practice session.
“You saw all the physical traits that we thought we had identified in the evaluation,” Payton said. “But very quickly you recognize that he’s smart. He picks things up, he doesn’t repeat mistakes, he understands protections, and he’s been coached hard. He’s a good instinctive football player that at any time we can insert in the base but also insert in the nickel and he’d know the protections, he’d know everything just as Pierre does or Darren does or someone who’s been in the system.”
According to Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris, that shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who scouted Ingram coming out of college.
“He’s exactly what everybody thought he was in the draft,” Morris said. “He’s an in-between-the-tackles runner that can break it out every once in awhile, that can get away from you, that can bounce off plays, that has great contact balance. He’s a hard-nosed kid. He’s going to force his will on his opponent every single week.”
The transition from college running back to a professional one hasn’t been a tough or frustrating task, the rookie said, thanks to the veterans in the Saints locker room.
“Nothing has been frustrating,” Ingram said. “The transition has been real smooth. Having veteran players to learn from like Pierre and Darren and being in the huddle with Drew, the transition has been real smooth. The guys have helped me with that, learning plays, being comfortable out there and knowing my assignment. I haven’t been frustrated by too much of anything.”
Except maybe his locker placement, which, along with fellow first-round pick Cam Jordan, is over by the kickers.
And even then Ingram found positives.
“Yeah, we’re right here by the bathrooms,” Ingram said. “By everything. By the meeting rooms. Everything. We only have to walk to go to the training room. That’s it.