New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) celebrate his two-point conversion to tie the game with running back Mark Ingram (22) against Washington in an NFL football game in New Orleans, La. Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017.

The New Orleans Saints will be forced to take on the first quarter of their schedule this fall without one-half of the dynamic tandem that racked up more yards than any backfield duo in NFL history last season. 

But the four-game suspension Mark Ingram was handed for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs does not mean Alvin Kamara will automatically take on the work of both men.

Not by a long shot. 

"The mistake would be that Alvin gets 15 more carries," Saints coach Sean Payton said on Saturday at the team's rookie minicamp. "That's not the direction we would expect to go."

Kamara, the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year for the way he exploded onto the scene in New Orleans last year, averaged 8.75 carries and 5.1 catches per game in the 12 games after the Saints traded away veteran Adrian Peterson to make room for the Ingram-Kamara combo. 

A lot of the NFL's top backs handle a heavier workload than that in other offenses, and Kamara's 720 rushing yards, 826 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns make the second-year back out of Tennessee look like a prime candidate to get a four-game run as a feature back before Ingram returns. 

New Orleans would rather keep one of its best weapons fresh. 

"I think it would be a disservice to him," Saints running backs coach Joel Thomas said. "We don't want to run the tread off the back with him early in the season, because this thing's a marathon, 16 games, and I think we've got the talent, offensively and in the backfield, to go ahead and push through this little process."

If Kamara is not handling the lion's share of the 15.7 carries Ingram handled per game after Peterson's departure, though, the question is where those carries will go. 

"There'll be a handful of other guys that will be competing for those touches," Payton said. "You miss something with a guy like Mark Ingram in those early weeks that you normally would get, but for us, it's about evaluating that whole position and determining who can handle some of that role."

Outside of their top two backs, the Saints have a list of young, unproven players — sixth-round selection Boston Scott, second-year special-teamer Trey Edmunds and third-year backs Jonathan Williams and Daniel Lasco — who have combined for just 47 NFL carries in their careers. 

With an inexperienced group like that behind the top two, there has been widespread speculation that the Saints might sign a veteran to help the running game tread water while Ingram sits. 

Peterson, who played well in Arizona after the trade is available, and the veteran runner told the NFL Network earlier this week that he'd be open to putting on a Saints uniform again. 

The feeling is mutual. In a pinch, New Orleans would have no trouble bringing the legendary runner back into the fold. 

"This gets back to the notion that we had some type of argument at Minnesota, which I still say there was none," Payton said. "I think a ton of him. That would be, if all of a sudden, we decided, hey, we're going to look at additional players who are on the street, certainly his name, there'd be a few others. We have them on a board right now." 

According to Payton, though, bringing in Peterson or another veteran back is not in the team's plans.

"Right now, no," Payton said. "I'm anxious to evaluate the guys we have here." 

New Orleans likes Scott, the diminutive bowling ball out of Louisiana Tech, as a runner and signed Williams last season off the street because of the potential the Saints saw in his Arkansas tape, but it might not be just one man who is asked to replace Ingram's role in the offense until he gets back. 

Under Payton, the Saints have a history of rotating as many as three or four backs at a time, and New Orleans might use that strategy again if more than one player proves capable this summer and throughout training camp. 

"Right away, one of the things I did, I went back to early on in my career here, and also later, the late 2000s when they were on their run," Thomas said. "You look at all the wins for the Saints, and there's times there were three, maybe even four running backs that played. ... We might get back to the old ways those first four games."

Follow Joel A. Erickson on Twitter, @JoelAErickson.