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Pierre Thomas excited about Saints' strength at RB

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OXNARD, Calif. (AP)

Pierre Thomas feels a bit nostalgic when talking about the New Orleans Saints' core group of running backs. He can't help but be reminded of 2009.

Thomas compared this year's crop of rushers to the crew from two seasons ago that featured Mike Bell, Reggie Bush and Thomas - a group which ranked sixth in the NFL in yards gained on the ground.

The Saints are hoping a similar production also provides the same end result: a Super Bowl championship.

''I feel like it's the same way,'' Thomas said Wednesday following New Orleans' third practice during a weeklong stay in Southern California. ''It's a good changeup for us to have three different backs, and three dangerous backs, back there. It allows our offense to be adverse and to try new things.''

And if it feels like an entirely new group from a season ago, it practically is.

Despite being the lone holdover on the depth chart from last year, Thomas is getting his legs back under him after missing much of the season because of injuries. He'll be joined in a revamped backfield by first-round pick Mark Ingram and the diminutive Darren Sproles, who signed as a free agent from San Diego.

Thomas believes this year's slew of backs can be a formidable bunch, with each player bringing something different to the table.

''I see us as a three-headed monster, like we were in '09,'' Thomas said. ''It's a good rotation and dangerous backfield. ... You got Sproles, he's a fast guy, quick guy, agile guy - something like Reggie. You got Mark Ingram, who is basically both. And I think I'm both, too. I can add a little bit of shake in me when I can pull it out.''

Injuries wreaked havoc on the Saints' ground game last year, causing the team to fall to 28th in the league in rushing. Thomas appeared in just six games and Bush was limited to eight. Rookie Chris Ivory was promoted by default and led the team with 716 yards in 12 games.

Cleary in need of reinforcements, the Saints gave the position a face-lift during the offseason. They traded to draft Ingram with the No. 28 pick and later shipped Bush to Miami, replacing him by giving Sproles a four-year deal.

''It's a deep position and one we feel like is very talented,'' Saints coach Sean Payton said.

Ingram and Thomas are expected to share the heavy lifting, including getting carries at the goal line. Ivory may also be in the mix for carries. But Sproles, who is listed at 5-foot-6, could be the X-factor.

While Sproles has never been an every-down runner in his six years in the NFL, he will complement the other two as a change-of-pace back, as well as being a steady receiving threat on passing downs. As part of a running back committee in San Diego, Sproles had 267 yards rushing and caught 59 passes for 520 yards last season.

''I think he's been a great addition,'' said quarterback Drew Brees of his former Chargers teammate. ''There are things he can do that other backs in the league don't even have a chance of doing. So, that's exciting to see how he fits in.''

Ingram was drafted out of Alabama to provide the Saints with a tough, between-the-tackles runner. The 2009 Heisman winner had strong showings in his first two preseason games, running for touchdowns in each.

But Ingram has been hobbled this week, missing two days of practice after experiencing swelling in his knee following Monday's session. Payton said he expects Ingram to rejoin the team for Thursday's practice and thinks he'll be ready for Sunday's preseason game in Oakland.

As for Thomas, he just wants to stay healthy. After enjoying a banner campaign with 793 yards in 2009, he is hoping to regain that form in his sixth season. Earlier this week, Thomas said he is feeling 95 percent in his recovery from surgery.

Thomas knows if this group of backs performs the way its capable, other teams won't know how to game plan for their attack.

''Defenses aren't going to know what to expect when all of us are in a good rotation, or even in at the same time,'' he said.

Tagged: Dolphins, Saints, Darren Sproles, Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram

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