WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS W.Va. — Saints running back Mark Ingram spoke plainly on Friday about his ultimate NFL career goal: “I want to be the best back to ever play the freakin’ game of football.”
He’s fallen short of that loftiest of goals; but, to inch ever closer to it, Ingram entered his team’s preseason training camp at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia having made this vow: “Don’t press.”
“I think sometimes I press because sometimes I don’t have as many opportunities,” Ingram said after the Saints’ seventh training camp practice Friday. “Sometimes I get in and press and try to make a big play when I should just go with the flow of the game and just make my read and take three yards or two yards.”
Ingram’s impatience is easy to sympathize with. After earning the only Heisman Trophy awarded to a player at Alabama and helping the Crimson Tide win a BCS title, the former 2011 first-round draft choice has shared carries with former Saints Chris Ivory, Darren Sproles as well as current teammates Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson.
He also missed a total of 11 regular season games and two playoff contests with foot injuries. Those are all reasons why Ingram is averaging a pedestrian 118 carries and 487.3 yards per regular season while scoring 12 touchdowns (including the playoffs).
Ivory and Sproles have moved on from the Saints, but barring something unexpected, Ingram will be sharing New Orleans’ backfield with Thomas, Robinson and Travaris Cadet this season.
He’ll also remain part of a pass-happy offense that’s under the direction of quarterback Drew Brees, who’s thrown for the NFL’s most yards (10,339) and second-most touchdowns (82) since 2012. That means a multitude of touches will be benefiting players like All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, wideout Marques Colston, owner of the Saints’ major receiving records; and rookie Brandin Cooks, the first-round draft selection out of Oregon State who was recognized as the top receiver in college football last year.
Ingram is intent on upping the quality of touches because he knows the quantity likely won’t be bountiful.
“Just being patient, being confident and just going through my reads and just sticking to them” will be key, Ingram said. “The big plays will come — you just have be patient,” Ingram said.
Saints cornerback Champ Bailey’s absence from practice Friday was unexplained by coach Sean Payton.
“No status,” Payton said when asked about where Bailey was. “We don’t discuss injuries during training camp. That’s not new, either.”
A reporter then followed up with, “So he’s injured?” Payton replied, “Next question.”
After participating in the first six days of training camp practices, Bailey was absent from a walkthrough Thursday afternoon. A video replay from New Orleans’ WVUE-TV showed receiver Nick Toon rolling up on Bailey’s right ankle on a long completion in a passing drill. Bailey jogged back to the huddle and stayed on the field, but he was not spotted Friday at practice or an afternoon walkthrough.
Bailey had a preseason foot injury in 2013 and was limited to just eight games in his last year in Denver, three of which were in the playoffs and included the Broncos’ loss to Seattle in the Super Bowl.
Meanwhile, after apparently tweaking an ankle Thursday, Saints Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan was in pads Friday but was not going through drills. Others present but not participating in drills were left guard Ben Grubbs, receivers Kenny Stills and Steve Hull, cornerback Terrence Frederick and nose tackle John Jenkins (physically unable to perform, reportedly pectoral). Reserve tackle Ty Nsekhe was not spotted. Jordan and Stills then participated in an afternoon walkthrough.
Twice Friday, Saints running back Travaris Cadet took a handoff right; halted on a dime; cut left and was only stopped by his pursuers after long gains.
The decisiveness Cadet showed on that pair of snaps commanded the attention of observers as he’s only carried the ball in a regular season game once for 5 yards since making the Saints as an undrafted rookie in 2012.
Cadet was less surprised, chalking it up to part of a learning process that’s required hours upon hours of watching game tape.
“It goes back to the film room,” Cadet said Friday. “(I’m) seeing things, and (it’s resulted in me) being on the same page with my offensive linemen, me reading the same thing they’re reading, how they’re using their techniques to engage their blocks, and me knowing how they’re going to engage their blocks, and me knowing where they expect me to be at (any) point in time.”
That’s not to say Cadet expects to become a traditional tailback. He’s spent the vast bulk of his NFL career returning kickoffs (35 for 929 yards) and covering kicks on special teams (12 tackles). Every once in a while, he’s been called on to catch passes (seven for 49 yards).
“I know what my role is, and I know I’m going to be used in a whole lot of different situations,” Cadet said.
Ramon Antonio Vargas