METAIRIE, La. -- New signees Adrian Peterson and Alvin Kamara have generated the most buzz this offseason. But the New Orleans Saints running back who has looked the most impressive in training camp so far is Mark Ingram.
You know, the guy who led the Saints with 1,043 rushing yards, 1,362 yards from scrimmage, 10 touchdowns and 5.1 yards per carry last season -- all career highs?
The Saints have only held one live tackling period and three fully-padded practices so far this summer, so it's far too early to declare a backfield pecking order.
But the area where Ingram has excelled at the most in recent days is the passing game, which has quietly become a big part of his repertoire over the past few years.
Ingram has consistently been churning up yards through screen passes, wheel routes and dump-offs over the middle during training camp practices. He has also shown proficiency at other routes.
That's something Ingram has always taken a great deal of pride in. He loves to point out that he was listed as an "athlete" when he was recruited to Alabama because he was a running back, receiver and kick returner.
And the play that probably cemented his Heisman trophy win in 2009 was a 69-yard screen pass in the SEC championship victory over Florida.
"I've always caught the ball my entire life," said Ingram, whose father Mark Ingram Sr. was a standout NFL receiver. "So I've always known that I had good hands and was able to catch the ball. But early in my career I wasn't able to be featured that way. So now that I'm able to get a chance, I just want to make sure that I keep excelling in that area of my game, that I keep proving I'm more than capable of coming out of the backfield and catching the ball and running routes and catching the ball with the best backs that do that in this league.
"I just want to keep proving that I'm the best complete back in this game. You know Le'Veon Bell, David Johnson, I feel like I can do the same thing that those guys do, given the opportunity. So that's my mindset, that's my goal. I want to be the best back in this league. That's what I come out here and work for every single day."
Unfortunately for Ingram, it's hard to imagine him getting the same volume of touches as a guy like Johnson (who ran for 1,239 yards and caught 80 passes for 879 yards last season) or Bell (who gained nearly 1,900 yards from scrimmage in just 12 games played).
With the arrival of Peterson and Kamara (the former through free agency and the latter via the third round of the 2017 draft), The Saints' backfield has gotten noticeably more crowded.
But Ingram, 27, remains the safe bet to play the most snaps and rack up the most yards from scrimmage because of his versatility. Not only does he have 96 catches for 724 yards and four touchdowns in just 28 games played over the past two seasons -- he's also the Saints' best pass protector.
"Yeah, we do have a lot of guys in the backfield. But at the end of the day, I just want to be the best I can be if they were here or they were not," said Ingram, who has consistently said all the right things about Peterson, even though the former MVP might limit his touches -- and has definitely taken away his spotlight.
"I mean, you can pout about it, you can be frustrated about it. But that don't do any good," Ingram said. "At the end of the day, this guy -- I respect him and all he's accomplished. And him being here is gonna make me better because I'm gonna compete with him, and I'll be able to learn from him, too.
"I've never shied away from competition, and I bet on myself all the time, against anybody, I don't care who it is. And I feel like that's the attitude you have to have in this profession because there's always gonna be someone in there trying to take your job away. ... You just have to always be confident in yourself and just continue to work."