Saints’ Ingram eager for encore to career game

Mark Ingram insists he has never paid attention to his critics
and isn’t using their comments for motivation now.

As far as he’s concerned, it is pure coincidence that his best
game by far as a pro came a week after former Saints player Chris
Ivory made New Orleans look bad for trading him to the New York
Jets, causing many in the Big Easy to question whether the wrong
running back was sent packing.

”Fans don’t bother me. What people say doesn’t bother me. Any
outside outlet doesn’t bother me, doesn’t faze me at all. I really
don’t care,” Ingram said after Wednesday’s practice. ”I know what
type of player I am. I know how hard I work to be the best I can be
and every teammate of mine knows.

”As long as this locker room knows what I’m doing and how hard
I’m working, and this organization knows, that’s all that matters
to me.”

Ingram rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown on only 14 carries
last Sunday night in a 49-17 victory over Dallas, smashing his
previous career high of 91 yards set in his rookie season of
2011.

For the former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round draft
choice out of Alabama, the big night seemed overdue. Yet the extent
to which it shed light on Ingram’s ability to emerge as an elite
NFL running back remains a matter of debate.

All but 15 of his yards came in the second half of a blowout
against an injury-riddled defense that ranks at the bottom of the
NFL.

This Sunday, the Saints host San Francisco, which has one of the
league’s most respected defenses, currently ranked sixth.

Ingram said he has only so much control over when coach Sean
Payton calls runs for him, and could only try to make the most of
his chances.

”I knew we would be trying to run the ball and take some of
that time off the clock,” Ingram recalled. ”I just wanted to take
complete advantage of the opportunity that was presented to me, and
I just want to continue to do that, continue to get better.”

Saints right guard Jahri Evans pointed out that although Dallas’
defense was hurting, Ingram ”just ran well.”

”He found some holes, and when he hit them, he hit them fast
and he hit them hard,” Evans said. ”He ran tough.”

Ingram led the Saints in rushing in 2012, but on an offense that
ranked 25th in that category. He gained 602 yards and scored five
TDs.

In his rookie season, he played in 10 games, rushing for 474
yards and five TDs, including a career-long 35-yard run for a
score. His 91 yards in a lopsided victory over Indianapolis was his
career-high until last weekend. However, his season was cut short
by a toe injury that required surgery.

Ingram entered his third training camp saying he was in the best
shape of his career, and optimistic it would show on the field. But
when the regular season arrived, Ingram had trouble crossing the
line of scrimmage.

He rushed nine times for 11 yards in the season opener, then
carried eight times for 20 yards in Week 2, after which he was
sidelined five games with a toe injury.

He returned against the Jets, rushing four times for 19 yards.
He finally broke loose for big gains against Dallas, including a
34-yarder.

”I was very happy for him. This season has been kind of
frustrating for him. He hasn’t been getting the looks he wanted in
the beginning, then he had the foot problem,” Saints running back
Pierre Thomas said. ”I told him that when he gets back, he’s got
to remind everybody why he’s in this league.”

In the second quarter, Ingram gained 13 yards, but managed to
incite more grumbling in the Superdome by springing to his feet and
spinning the ball hard off the turf, drawing a 5-yard delay-of-game
penalty.

Ingram acknowledged that he showed more emotion than usual, but
said it stemmed from his frustration with missed opportunities
earlier in the game, including a dropped pass.

The Saints weren’t thrilled with the flag, but liked Ingram’s
vigorous body language during and after his runs.

”When you see that in a player, you know he’s ready to do
something special. … He’s ready to turn it up, get after this
game, run hard, run like an animal,” Thomas said. ”I believe it
was all the frustration that he was going through. … He needed to
get it out of his system and I think everybody else kind of
recognized that.”

NOTES: Payton said the Saints worked out several kickers
Tuesday, but only to get updated evaluations on them should a need
for a kicker arise – not because they were looking to replace
Garrett Hartley. Payton said he remains confident in Hartley, who
has missed four of his last six field goal attempts. ”I know there
is speculation on the kicking position,” Payton said, but stressed
that Hartley has come through ”in so many big spots” since the
Saints’ Super Bowl season of 2009. ”I’ve got a ton of confidence
in his ability and I’m glad we did back in 2009 and I think the
same applies this year.” … LB Curtis Lofton (hamstring, ankle),
S Kenny Vaccaro (concussion), TE Benjamin Watson (concussion) and
Akiem Hicks (back) missed practice, while S Malcolm Jenkins, who
has missed the last two games with a knee injury, practiced
fully.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org