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