As week three of training camp begins and teams try to figure out where they are in terms of personnel, schemes and coaching, the New Orleans Saints are no different than the 31 other teams in the league. Hard decisions must be made and bugs must be worked out. By August 27 teams must have their rosters reduced to 75 players and then the final 53 man roster must be figured out by August 31.
The Saints and head coach Sean Payton have plenty to figure out, from their wide receiver roster to special teams miscues to their defense. Of the utmost importance, however, should be establishing a running game that can help Drew Brees and the rest of the offense.
It’s not that Brees necessarily needs help on offense, but since New Orleans’ Super Bowl run in 2009 the Saints’ run game has been inconsistent. In 2009 New Orleans rushed for 2,106 yards, had an impressive 13-3 regular season record and went on to defeat the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV.
The following season New Orleans rushed for only 1,519 yards, finished 11-5 in the regular season and lost to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs. A diminished running game certainly wasn’t the only reason New Orleans lost so early in the playoffs, but it was definitely a contributing factor.
In the 2011 NFL Draft New Orleans drafted Mark Ingram in the first round, No. 28 pick overall. He was brought in to help a once potent rushing attack regroup and refocus following a successful college career at Alabama. Since Ingram joined the Saints in 2011 he has rushed for 474 yards and five touchdowns in 2011 and 602 yards and five touchdowns in 2012.
I would like to see Ingram finally step up and play like the first round pick the Saints thought he would be. I’m not expecting to rush for 2,000 yards, 1,500 yards or even 1,000 yards. Realistically, with a running game that spreads the wealth between three to four running backs, I think a realistic expectation for Ingram would be somewhere around the neighborhood of 800-900 yards rushing and maybe seven or eight touchdowns.
Ingram hasn’t been better poised to step up his game, either. With two years of NFL experience under his belt, a healthy offseason, Payton’s return and a renewed focus on running the ball, Ingram could be set to be who the Saints thought he was. Continue to watch the running game as preseason goes on and the regular season begins. It should make for an interesting year.