NFL

Ivory for Ingram lineup swap looking more likely

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METAIRIE, La. (AP)

With Mark Ingram missing a second straight practice Thursday, it appears more likely that he'll be scratched from the lineup just a week after the best performance of his young career.

Fortunately for New Orleans, last season's leading rusher, Chris Ivory, appears ready to join New Saints' ninth-ranked ground game after his long rehabilitation from a broken left foot.

''It's going to feel real good if I get the opportunity to get the first game under my belt,'' Ivory said Thursday, after only his second practice of the season. ''It's been a long time coming as far as me being in rehab and trying to get back into it - you know, practice - and adjust to the speed and adjust to just taking contact.''

Ingram rushed for a season-high and team-high 91 yards against Indianapolis on Sunday, when the Saints rushed for 236 yards as a team.

However, Ingram left the game in the fourth quarter because of what coach Sean Payton has described as a bruised right heel. Ingram was using crutches after the game and had his foot in a protective boot after the game.

While Payton won't yet rule out Ingram for the Saints' game Sunday at winless St. Louis, he said Ivory would be activated from the physically unable to perform list for the game.

''Mentally, he understands and knows what we're doing. He did well today,'' Payton said. ''He had some good runs today. I think it's just the football aspect of getting comfortable with all the little things that come with it. You can be in shape and yet there's still that aspect of trying to be in football shape.''

Therefore, Payton said, if Ivory plays, he would not necessarily slide into all of the plays that normally would have been called for Ingram, who leads the Saints in carries (85) and yards rushing (329) this season.

''I don't think you can realistically go into the game and say he could potentially end up with 22 carries or 18 carries. I think you have to monitor that, but there are some of the same things that he does that Mark would be inclined to do,'' Payton said about Ivory, who rushed for 716 yards in 12 games last season.

''We've run Mark in our goal-line and short-yard packages. The switch if it were to occur would be pretty clean in those areas. It's an area that (Ivory) was very good at a year ago. He runs with power. He has real good explosion in through the hole. The key though is, again, (Wednesday) would have been like the first day of training camp literally in regards to football snaps. We just have to be smart and make sure we're getting him up to speed.''

Pierre Thomas has been a short-yardage running back for the Saints in the past, though less so this season with Ingram getting most of those carries.

This season, Thomas has nearly as many yards receiving (206) and rushing (222) and scored his only TD on a catch out of the backfield. But with Ivory being eased back in, Thomas could be called on more to get the hard yardage.

''You've got a guy in Pierre that can do a lot of things well and we don't ever take that for granted,'' Payton said.

The small but speedy Darren Sproles, who is among the Saints' receiving leaders, also has been thriving when given the chance to run, carrying the ball 39 times for 289 yards, an average of 7.4 yards.

So even if the Saints are forced to change their running back rotation, Sproles said he sees no reason why the ground game cannot continue to roll against a Rams defense that is last in the NFL against the run.

''We've been working kind of hard on that so I think we kind of found our stride in the running game,'' Sproles said. ''We can stay on track.''

Notes: Other than Ingram, LB Jonathan Vilma (left knee) was the only player to sit out practice Thursday. He has missed practices regularly in recent weeks but still played. ... DT Sedrick Ellis and LB Jonathan Casillas returned on a limited basis after missing practice Wednesday. ... TE Jimmy Graham, LB Will Herring and TE John Gilmore all practiced fully after being limited Wednesday.

Tagged: Saints, Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram

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