'Athlete' Mark Ingram excited to be getting more looks as pass-catcher

Mark Ingram had three catches for 29 yards in the Saints exhibition against the Patriots. Stacy Revere/Getty Images

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints' first offensive play in Saturday night's preseason game was a check-down pass to running back Mark Ingram that he turned into an 11-yard gain.

The very next play: A 29-yard pass to Ingram, who showed his wheels while sprinting out of the backfield and beating New England Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins down the right sideline.

I'm not quite ready to start referencing Ingram as a runner/receiver just yet. But based on what we've seen this summer, it's possible that the Saints' leading back could expand his repertoire a little bit -- perhaps eclipsing his career highs of 29 catches and 145 receiving yards from last season.

He will if he gets his way.

Ingram has been angling to be used more as a receiver and every-down back since he arrived as a first-round draft pick and Heisman Trophy winner out of Alabama in 2011. Ingram loves to point out that he was listed as "athlete" instead of running back as a high school prospect.

"I know I'm a three-down back," said Ingram, who proved it last year when the Saints leaned heavily on him in the middle of the season while others were out with injury. "I could do first down, second down, third down, run the ball, catch the ball, pass protect.

"I take pride in being an every-down back, being a back that doesn't have to come off the field, being a back that can do everything that's asked of him within the scheme of the offense."

Ingram isn't necessarily demanding more playing time. He has always kept a healthy attitude about sharing time in New Orleans' crowded backfield -- which remains the case with the likes of C.J. Spiller and Khiry Robinson.

But Ingram is eager to flash more of his versatility -- and "how open the offense can be while I'm in there."

Coach Sean Payton said he thinks both Ingram and Robinson have become "a little more accomplished" in the passing game, which gives the offense more flexibility when they're on the field.

"I think this year is the first opportunity that I've actually had the chance to be able to go do those things. And I'm working on it, continuing to get better at it," said Ingram, who thinks he has also gained more of quarterback Drew Brees' trust as a pass-catcher.

"I don't think he was like, ‘Oh there's Mark, I'm going somewhere else.' But I think he's more confident in me in that area," Ingram said. "I've been working with him all OTAs and for five years now. And he's seen the improvement that I've made in just running my routes, things like that. So when he sees me out there in a passing situation, I think he's more aware that I'm there now."

All Brees has to do is flip on the tape from the 2009 SEC championship game. Ingram's 69-yard catch on a screen pass in that game helped lead Alabama over Florida and helped cement his Heisman win.

"Yeah, that got me back in the running," Ingram said with a smile.