Saints expect fierce competition in crowded backfield
METAIRIE, La. (AP) Tim Hightower figures that if the Saints are fortunate enough to keep all of their running backs healthy, they'll have a hard time keeping them all happy.
''I would be disappointed if somebody wasn't a little ticked off'' by a lack of playing time, Hightower said. ''I'm a competitor. I don't want to come off the football field.''
New Orleans' backfield looks considerably more crowded than it was a year ago.
Mark Ingram is projected to once again be the starter, but how playing time is disbursed among another handful of running backs on the roster is anyone's guess.
A year ago at this time, Hightower was just hoping to show he could still play after missing three seasons with a knee injury and related setbacks.
His emergence late last season helped the Saints win three of their last four games, and earned him another contract this offseason.
C.J. Spiller had a disappointing first season with New Orleans in 2015, but suggests that his ongoing recovery from knee surgery performed nearly a year ago has left him poised to recapture more of the speed that propelled him to some big plays in his early years in Buffalo.
Marcus Murphy was an unproven rookie last season. Now he's established himself as a potent punt or kick return man who is looking to show he deserves a greater role in the offense. Travaris Cadet, who was brought back as a free agent late last season, made enough plays to get another shot this season.
''We do have a lot of guys that have gotten a lot of experience,'' Murphy said after the opening practice of minicamp on Tuesday. ''We have a pretty talented room, so it's going to call for a lot of competition. So you just have to come in with the mindset that you have to compete for a job and have plans to get better.''
New to the mix is rookie Daniel Lasco, a former California-Berkeley standout taken by New Orleans in the seventh round of this spring's draft.
In recent seasons, the Saints have had a hard time keeping their running backs healthy. Both Ingram and Spiller missed games last season. Khiry Robinson, a power back who is no longer with the club, had a season-ending broken leg about midway through 2015. Those injuries were why Hightower and Cadet even got chances to make their marks on the Saints' offense last season.
''It's a tough position to play and stay healthy,'' coach Sean Payton said in reference to the depth his club has at running back heading into this season.
''We will try to identify what we want to do with the backs, with the rotation and also play types,'' Payton said. ''Part of it now is giving ourselves a chance to look at all of these guys.''
Spiller has yet to live up to his nickname of ''Thriller'' in New Orleans, perhaps with the exception of one long touchdown at the end of a victory over Dallas last season. He cites an arthroscopic knee procedure last August as the main reason why.
''It played a big role, because of the style I played with, the cutting and stopping; whenever you don't have that explosion that I'm known for, it hampers your play,'' Spiller said. ''This offense is built for my type of skill set. ... So I'm just happy to have a chance to try to, I guess you can say, revamp or redeem myself, and get this team hopefully a 100 percent `Thriller.'''
Lasco is trying to be realistic about how he'll make the team, saying special teams could be the difference for him at first. He figured that if he can do that, all the experience and talent at the top of the depth chart at running back will only help him in the long run.
''I can basically take their knowledge of the game and grow from it,'' Lasco said. ''I'm enjoying this process. The guys that are here in front of me, they're great running backs. They're here for a reason and I'm just want to add to this team whatever element I possibly can.''
Notes: Veteran receiver Robert Meachem returned to the roster on a tryout basis. On Tuesday, he was wearing No. 12, formally worn by the franchise's all-time leading receiver Marques Colston until his release last winter after 10 seasons. ... Payton said second-year outside linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha, who last week injured his left anterior cruciate ligament for the third time since his college career at Washington, is awaiting multiple specialists' opinions on how to approach treatment. ''There are two or three different options, but to his credit, he's been unbelievable in regards to his mindset,'' Payton said. ''He is a pretty tough cookie. Obviously, you're the exception if you can come back after the third ACL (injury) ... but I wouldn't bet against Hau'oli.''
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