Mark Ingram’s return to the Saints was “perfect timing”
METAIRIE – The New Orleans Saints weren’t what Odell Beckham Jr. was looking for.
But they’re just what Mark Ingram II was hoping for.
Maybe everything will work out.
The Saints (5-3) could have used Beckham with Michael Thomas missing this entire season – and with their youthful receiving corps coming off a poor performance in the loss to Atlanta last week.
But the former Newman High School and LSU star chose the Los Angeles Rams among several suitors.
Beckham’s calculation, at least in part, was that he has a better chance of making big plays, of winning a Super Bowl this season, of landing a long-term deal after the season with the Rams than he would have had in New Orleans.
Perhaps he’s right.
And perhaps Beckham wouldn’t have been exactly what the Saints needed.
It’s up to Tre’Quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Marquez Callaway, Kenny Stills, Ty Montgomery and Lil’Jordan Humphrey to make sure the Saints are OK without Beckham.
It’s up to the receivers on hand – starting with the game at Tennessee (7-2) on Sunday – to do a better job of getting open and getting better in sync with Trevor Siemian, who’ll start Sunday, and Taysom Hill in the absence of Jameis Winston the rest of the way.
“We’re aware of that,” Callaway said. “The offense is designed to go where the playmakers are, and we can’t get the ball to the playmakers if we can’t get open.”
Siemian played well in his first start last week, but he was hampered by a half dozen dropped passes
“We’ve got no excuse for it,” Callaway said. “You wouldn’t be in the league if you can’t catch, so it’s not a catching thing. It’s more detail, more focus.”
Here’s where Ingram comes in.
He needs just 20 yards to surpass Deuce McAllister as the Saints’ all-time leading rusher, two weeks after a trade with Houston brought him back to the franchise that made him a No. 1 pick in 2011 and for whom he played for eight seasons.
Ingram said McAllister, the color analyst on the Saints radio broadcasts, was “one of the most supportive guys throughout my whole career, even in beginning times when things weren’t as ideal as you’d want them to be as a first-round pick.”
Ingram averaged less than four yards per carry if each of his first two seasons and didn’t have a 1,000-yard season until his sixth.
Smith is in the fourth season of a slow-starting career, Harris is in his third season, and Callaway and Humphrey are in their second. All but Smith were undrafted.
Perhaps they will draw inspiration from Ingram’s late blossoming that they not would have from Beckham, who had a history-making rookie season with the Giants before wearing out his welcome there and with Cleveland, which placed him on waivers Monday.
“When you’re young, man, some guys come in and have immediate success, but that’s not everybody,” Ingram said. “I wouldn’t be here today without those trials and tribulations and successes.”
Alvin Kamara, who hasn’t practiced this week because of a knee injury suffered in last week’s game, has been ruled out for Sunday so Ingram will have to be the focal point of the offense.
The Heisman Trophy winner out of Alabama had eight touches two weeks ago, 14 last week and said he’s “ready for a whole load at all times.”
“That’s what I’m built for,” Ingram said.
He said he feels like he’s a better player than he was when he left as a free agent after the 2018 season.
“I feel like I move better when I am running the ball, I feel like I see it better, feel like I can still catch the ball, run routes, feel like a complete back picking up pass protection,” he said. “I can do all three downs like I always could.
“I’m thankful for where I’m at today in my 11th season and feeling healthy, fresh, and like I still have my best football ahead of me. I didn’t know when I’d come back or if I’d come back or how I’d come back. I always figured that maybe I’d have a chance to come back. In think it was perfect timing.”
Beckham is from New Orleans, but he’s never been a Saint, so he couldn’t have the same perspective on the organization as that of Ingram or other Saints who have returned in recent seasons, such as Roman Harper, Jermon Bushrod, Patrick Robinson and Malcolm Jenkins.
“I think New Orleans is a special place and a place where guys who have started their career here or have been here for a long time think this is home, think this is family,” Ingram said. “So if you have a chance to come back, I think it’s almost like a no-brainer.”
Linebacker Demario Davis came to New Orleans as a free agent in 2018 after stops with the Jets and the Browns.
“Our culture is based on winning from top to bottom,” Davis said. “That’s the most important thing in our building. It’s how we get those wins that’s most important.”
Davis said the Saints’ attention to detail in rigorous off-season and preseason training is eye-opening to newcomers. Even at mid-season, he said, “it’s a mental grind.”
“Understanding situationally what you get each week and the tweaks we make in our meetings and having to take those out to the practice field quickly. I’ve been in other organizations and it’s not like that everywhere,” Davis said. “It takes a little bit to adapt to when you first get here, but I think what people quickly understand a week or two in is, ‘oh, OK, this is why they’re successful.’”
The success figures to continue with Ingram – and without Beckham.
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Les East is a nationally renowned freelance journalist. The New Orleans area native’s blog on SportsNOLA.com was named “Best Sports Blog” in 2016 by the Press Club of New Orleans. For 2013 he was named top sports columnist in the United States by the Society of Professional Journalists. He has since become a valued contributor for CCS. The Jesuit High…