METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints are looking for the new version of “Boom and Zoom.”
That was one of the nicknames for running backs Mark Ingram II and Alvin Kamara, who made history together for two seasons after becoming the first duo to tally more than 1,500 yards apiece from scrimmage in 2017.
The Saints have tried and failed to recapture that magic, and they’re hoping Kamara and new addition Jamaal Williams could be the right backfield combination.
And if rookie Kendre Miller, the Saints’ third-round pick out of TCU, pans out, the Saints might just be looking into nicknames for trios.
Williams is certainly embracing the challenge. During Saints minicamp practices in June, he gushed about the opportunity to play with Kamara.
“He can do everything already too. I feel like I can do everything too -- once I get the opportunity,” Williams said. "That's why I'm grateful to be here too. ... They give the running backs opportunities to go out there, no matter who it is. If it's Alvin, if me, anybody, they give 'em a chance to go out there and run choices, give them opportunities to get one-on-ones, and they go out there and just make plays. But being here with AK is just great.”
The Saints signed Williams in free agency after he ran for a league-leading 17 touchdowns with the Detroit Lions last season. Williams excelled at short-yardage touchdown runs, with 14 of his scores coming from less than five yards out.
Williams described himself as an ugly runner compared to Kamara’s effortless stride, comparing him to a “spark plug.”
“That boy just gets loose so fast,” Williams said. “His acceleration is just crazy. He just be chilling and he just turns it on. It's just so funny. I just love the way he runs, it’s just so effortless and it’s just him. But me? … I’m not a cool-looking person … [I'm] as ugly as you can get at running back.”
The Saints now face the challenge of managing snaps for all three players, but it’s a problem they’ll gladly take after struggling with depth the past two seasons. The Saints reunited with Ingram in 2021, trading with the Houston Texans to bring him back after injuries depleted the roster. But he and Kamara failed to replicate what they had in 2017. Ingram was not re-signed by the Saints this offseason after they chose to pursue Williams instead.
Replicating past success is a balancing act, one that could be particularly important this summer, as the team would look to Williams or Miller if Kamara is unavailable. Kamara, who rushed for 897 yards and two touchdowns last season and caught 57 passes for 490 yards and two touchdowns, was arrested on the weekend of the Pro Bowl in February 2022 along with three other men, after a fight outside of a Las Vegas nightclub.
The four pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to commit battery and a felony charge of battery resulting in substantial bodily harm. Kamara has a jury trial set for July 31.
While the league will likely wait to make a decision until the legal proceedings are finished, the personal conduct policy states that first-time offenses involving felony criminal battery or assault could result in a minimum suspension of six games.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Saints coach Dennis Allen said regarding how they might plan to play without Kamara. “We’ve got thoughts and ideas in our mind in terms of how we react to whatever we’re dealing with. And so we’re not going to worry too much about a lot of things that we don’t really control.”
As of now, the Saints want to get the trio reps in three areas: Protection, catching and running the ball.
Miller is recovering from a knee injury that should be healed by training camp. In his final season at TCU, he rushed 224 times for 1,399 yards and 17 touchdowns and caught 16 passes for 116 yards.
“My job with this room is to get them all prepared to step up,” running backs coach Joel Thomas said. "In the moment, you've gotten to a point where you're down your [top] two, so that third guy has got to be ready. So, it's the big picture, understanding that. And then as they start to learn this stuff, you find out who can handle that load, who is maybe deficient in one area -- compared to, you know, got a runner, a protector, a pass catcher. So if you can be great in all three areas, your value in this league is incredible.”
Thomas can’t predict Kamara’s availability or how fast Miller can grow once he gets on the field, but if Kamara's rookie year in 2017 is any indication on how a newcomer can excel, the wildcard in the backfield will have an opportunity.
“AK, obviously he’s got three-down value,” Thomas said. "Jamaal, you’d say first and second down, power runner, emotional physicality, and he catches the ball fine. That’s not something I’m worried about. Kendre’s going to be one that, as we go through camp, in his mind, he can do all three -- blocking, catching and running -- but that’s a big chore to handle as we’re going, and we’ll see that as it comes about. But I don’t doubt the runner. He’s got … physicality, and he’s got some long speed.”