One of the bigger mysteries of the Saints’ season could be solved over the next four weeks.
With Mark Ingram on injured reserve due to a torn left rotator cuff, it will force New Orleans to turn to running backs C.J. Spiller and Tim Hightower to carry the load.
If Spiller begins receiving more snaps, as expected, it will finally end the mystery about what he’s capable to do in this offense.
“It’s the one player that I’m trying to figure out what the touches,” coach Sean Payton said. “I think that put him behind and hopefully here down the stretch we can give him enough touches to see.”
Signed to a lucrative contract during the offseason, Spiller came to New Orleans with the expectations that he could succeed in this offense the way Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush once did. But he underwent a minor procedure on his knee during training camp and did not get started as hoped.
Spiller has only logged 159 snaps this season, rushing 31 times for 108 yards and catching 29 passes for 216 yards. Payton believes that the injury set him back and contributed to Spiller’s reduced role in the offense.
“We’re going to get a chance to see more now,” Payton said. “I think the training camp injury obviously set him back some. And then it’s just a matter of the confidence and explosion off the knee. He’ll play a significant role as will Tim Hightower and even (rookie Marcus) Murphy.”
Asked Wednesday about his health, explosiveness and ability to cut, Spiller said he did not think it was an issue.
“Yeah, I think I have the speed, I think you can probably look at the Dallas game,” Spiller said, referencing the 80-yard touchdown he scored in overtime to seal the game. “I have the cutting ability, you can probably go to the Giants game. So I feel great. But I’m always trying to get faster.”
Payton also said he’s curious to see what Hightower, who has 12 carries for 48 yards in his first season back from a 2011 knee injury, will do in a bigger role.
“He finally got some touches in a regular season game against Washington,” Payton said. “He’s competitive, he’s tough, he’s been in that spotlight. For him it’s the confidence that the injury and the leg is 100 percent. I’m excited to see him play just like I am with CJ. But it will be a good opportunity.”
Payton also noted the team is working to get the players ready to serve in protection, a role Ingram excelled in this season.
“Hightower knows them well,” Payton said of the protections. “These other guys are on top of it, Ingram’s just gotten more work. I think that today’s practice it’s been one of the whole focus points last night with third down and pressures looks, who is going to be in the game, who is our personnel, and then who we’re going to go about handling it. When you have a change like that it just doesn’t impact your base.”
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