The New Orleans Saints had one of the top offenses in the NFL last season. There were second in the league, averaging 410.9 yards per game.
While the Saints didn’t have much problem moving the ball, they struggled in their rushing attack. Drew Brees was first with 5,177 passing yards, but the team was just 25th in total rushing yards. Three running backs had more total yards on the ground than the Saints' entire team.
One of the reasons why New Orleans struggled to establish a solid ground attack has been the inconsistency of Mark Ingram. The Heisman Trophy winner has failed to live up to expectations since being taken in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He has battled through injuries, but still failed to break out in 2012 when he played in all 16 games. The lead rusher accumulated just 602 yards on 156 attempts last season.
Ingram, however, could be on the verge of his best year as a pro. He appears to be completely healthy and focused with the preseason set to get underway on Aug. 9.
"I have finally had a healthy offseason," Ingram said. "My rookie year I missed some games. Last year and [the 2012] offseason, I was just recovering from some offseason surgeries, but I played all 16 games and I finished strong. I'm not frustrated. I can definitely improve in different aspects and things like that, but I am trying to get better."
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The former Alabama standout will have some competition for carries. Pierre Thomas used to be the team’s top rusher, and Darren Sproles has shown the ability to be a dynamic playmaker. Ingram averaged 3.9 yards per carry last season, worse than Thomas’s 4.5 and Sproles 5.1.
Even if Ingram is the top running back on the depth chart, he’ll likely still be forced to split a lot of the carries. In recent years, a growing number of NFL teams have relied on more than one rusher. New Orleans doesn’t seem to be any different.
"Year Three is important," said head coach Sean Payton, according to the Associated Press. "To his specific case, he's healthier than he's been, and his weight's down. We expect him to play well and have a good season. ... Some guys, it happens right away. The challenge at running back here is sometimes those snaps are being split and it's a little different.”
If Ingram can’t get the job done in 2013, though, his time with the Saints could run out. Ingram only have one more year left on his contract, and New Orleans would almost certainly search for other options in the draft or free agency.
The Saints struggled last year with the same collection of running backs, but they didn’t add much to improve that part of their offense. With five draft picks, they didn’t select a running back. New Orleans did sign Khiry Robinsom, an undrafted rookie out of Texas A&M, but he may have a hard time getting on the field should he earn a roster spot in training camp.