METAIRIE, La. (AP) Running back Mark Ingram was a late arrival to the New Orleans Saints‘ offseason program and he’ll be a late arrival for the regular season as well.
But he says he’s not behind schedule and will hit the ground running when he finishes a four-game suspension to start the season.
Ingram, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards each of the past two seasons, is being disciplined for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancers.
Ingram skipped New Orleans’ voluntary OTAs, but participated in the first day of the team’s mandatory three-day minicamp Tuesday. He said his absence wasn’t a holdout as he enters the final year of his contract.
”The main reason I wasn’t here for OTAs is I wanted to train on my own this offseason and switch up my offseason regimen this year,” Ingram said after practice.
”I felt like there were things that I wanted to work on personally that I could get done better by myself. Noting against our program.
”There were a number of things I could focus on – my speed, my explosion, keeping my weight down, taking care of my body. I feel like the stuff I was doing while I was away made me a better player. I’ve been here seven years. I know our offense. As you get older you know exactly what your body needs to be its best.”
Ingram said he kept Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis informed of what he was doing as he worked out with his father, former NFL player Mark Ingram, in the Boca Raton, Fla., area as he has throughout his seven-year career.
”I think he’s in good shape,” Payton said. ”It’s good to see him out there.”
Payton said there’s nothing new on contract talks with Ingram.
”I’d love to stay in New Orleans,” Ingram said. ”That’s (the Saints’) decision. If they see me in the future we’ll get something done. But I have one year left. Whether it happens now or later, it’ll come around.”
The Saints are well positioned to handle Ingram’s absence with the presence of Alvin Kamara, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year last season. Ingram and Kamara set an NFL record by becoming the first teammates to each gain more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage in the same season.
But after Kamara, New Orleans has little experience with Trey Edmunds, Jonathan Williams, Daniel Lasco and rookie sixth-round draft choice Boston Scott.
Former Saints running back Tom Hightower worked out for the team Tuesday, and former Chiefs and Broncos running back Jamaal Charles reportedly will visit with the team Wednesday.
”It’s not the end of the world,” Ingram said of his absence. ”I’m going to be back. Those guys need to step up and I’m sure Alvin and the rest of the guys are going to do a great job of preparing and putting themselves in position for success. I’ll be rooting on my teammates real hard.”
Quarterback Drew Brees said he’s ”stayed in constant communication” with Ingram and knows ”what he’s doing to get himself ready to play.”
”I know he’s been training hard, working hard, preparing himself for the season,” Brees said. ”So it’s great to have him back this week. It certainly hasn’t distracted me. I don’t think it’s distracted anybody. We’re not worried about Mark or his readiness to play when it’s time.”
When Ingram was suspended last month, his agent issued a statement claiming that Ingram had tested positive for a substance that is permissible with an NFL exemption, but an arbitrator ruled against Ingram.
”I fought (the suspension) hard and I don’t agree with it, but I’m going to serve my suspension and I’m going to be ready when it’s time,” Ingram said. ”Hopefully we’re 4-0 when I come back, but I’ll be back and I’ll be ready.”
Ingram, 28, made his second Pro Bowl by running for a career-high 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. He also caught 58 passes for 416 yards.
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