Surrounded by speculation about whether he wants to leave the New Orleans Saints, running back Mark Ingram on Thursday denied a report that he’s seeking a trade and professed his love for the organization and city.
Ingram, who did not practice Thursday because of a toe injury, spoke with reporters at his locker and insisted a CBSSports.com report stating he might be pushing to be dealt “never came from me.”
“I don’t know who that came from, but I love New Orleans,” he said. “It’s home to me. I love this organization, love my teammates, love my coaches.”
Ingram added that he’s excited about the Saints’ 3-0 start, their first since winning Super Bowl XLIV four seasons ago.
“I work my butt off to be the best person I can be, the best player I can be for this team to help us go out there and have success,” he said. “I do that every single day. And as long as my teammates, my coaches and everybody in this organization knows that, that’s all that matters to me.”
Ingram, a first-round pick out of Alabama in 2011, has drawn jeers from both pundits and fans after gaining just 31 yards on 17 carries in wins over Atlanta and Tampa Bay to start the season. He failed to convert a fourth-and-1 at home against Atlanta and was stuffed on fourth-and-goal from the 1 at Tampa Bay.
A right toe injury sidelined Ingram for the 31-7 pummeling New Orleans handed to Arizona on Sunday. But a few hours before kickoff against the Cardinals, CBSSports.com published a story claiming he may request a trade.
The Saints ground game wasn’t that much more productive without Ingram. After combining for 76 yards on 26 carries against Atlanta and 75 yards on 20 carries against Tampa Bay, New Orleans running backs had 83 yards on 18 carries against Arizona — the majority of which came after the Saints built a commanding lead.
Right guard Jahri Evans on Thursday placed some of the blame for Ingram’s struggles on the shoulders of an offensive line that also has done a poor job of protecting quarterback Drew Brees, who was sacked 10 times the first three games.
“It starts up front,” said Evans, who missed Sunday’s game with a tweaked hamstring. “It starts with myself, my other offensive linemen.”
Nonetheless, Ingram (1.8 yards per carry) is the Saints’ least-productive running back at the moment. Pierre Thomas has 100 yards on 25 carries; Darren Sproles has 65 yards on 18 carries; and undrafted rookie Khiry Robinson got 38 yards on four carries late in the Arizona game.
Robinson was activated for the first time in Ingram’s absence, but on Thursday the rookie said, “I want him back as well as the coaches do, too.”
“It’s not a battle thing,” said Robinson, who led the NFL in the preseason with 228 yards on 49 carries. “Yeah, it gave me an opportunity, but I’m just trying to step up and do what I’m asked.”
In 28 games for the Saints, Ingram has rushed 295 times for 1,107 yards (3.8 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns. He has fumbled once.
During training camp, Ingram said he understood the high expectations the team and fans had for him in his third year as a pro.
“It’s a good feeling that they have faith in me,” he said at the time. “I am trying to ... confirm their faith in me.”