Ingram undeterred: 'I want to be the best'

New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram is looking to build on a strong finish to last season. Howard Smith/USA TODAY Sports

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Mark Ingram's expectations have not diminished one bit heading into his fourth season with the New Orleans Saints.

“The sky’s the limit, man. I want to be the best back to ever play the freakin’ game of football,” Ingram said.

However, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner also insisted that he’s perfectly content to be flying under the radar for a change.

Ingram said it doesn’t bother him that there now seems to be more buzz around second-year running back Khiry Robinson.

“I don’t mind at all. I mean, I like flying under the radar,” Ingram said. “And Khi’s a good player, a special, young player. He has a lot of talent, a lot of ability, so he deserves the buzz he’s getting. ...

“I don’t get too anxious or get anxiety about the future. I just try to handle it one day at a time. You know, whatever my role may be to help us win the game, that’s what I’m gonna do to the best of my ability. If you take it one day at a time, eventually your major goals will fall into place.”

At this point, it’s pretty much impossible to project what kind of season Ingram will have. So far, the former first-round draft pick hasn’t lived up to lofty expectations because of a series of injuries and inconsistent performance. And he’s still jockeying for snaps with Robinson and Pierre Thomas.

At the same time, Ingram’s arrow is pointing up this summer after another strong finish in 2013, followed by a fully healthy offseason.

It’s actually possible that Ingram has come full circle from being overrated to being underrated.

From a fantasy (or just a curiosity) perspective, I'm expecting a pretty even workload between the Saints' top three running backs, with Thomas playing more of the nickel/third-down role now that Darren Sproles has been traded away. But it's always possible that the Saints could stick with the hot hand as the season goes along.

The thing I’m most curious to see with Ingram is whether he’ll keep getting opportunities to play a more versatile role -- sometimes lining up in three-receiver sets and getting to catch passes or run out of the shotgun.

That’s how Ingram was used in the Saints’ playoff win over the Philadelphia Eagles last year when Thomas was out with an injury. And Ingram delivered with 97 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, plus three receptions for 17 yards.

Ingram also ran 10 times for 49 yards and a two-point conversion in the playoff loss at Seattle -- although he lost a costly fumble in the second quarter after a great play by Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, who delivered a headfirst hit to Ingram’s forearm and the ball.

“I was versatile in college and just want to transfer that to the NFL,” Ingram said. “I want to be an every-down back, not just to be a short-yardage or base back. I want to be able to run out of the gun, run in nickel, catch screen passes, pick up pass protection. I just want to do everything I can to contribute from a football player -- not just a running back.

“I just want to do everything I can to be the best player I can be to help us win games and win a championship. That’s my No. 1 goal.”

One thing about Ingram that should never be questioned is his attitude and his work ethic.

As I wrote last year following the Philly performance, Ingram deserved to have that breakthrough success, because he had continued to keep such a positive attitude throughout a tough three years.

If anything, Ingram admits that his biggest problem might have been trying to do too much when he got opportunities to succeed.

“I think sometimes I press, because sometimes I don’t have as many opportunities,” Ingram said. “So sometimes I get in and I press and try to make a big play, when I should just go with the flow of the game and just make my read and take 3 yards or take 2 yards.

“So just being patient and being confident and just going through my reads and just sticking to 'em. ... The big plays will come. You’ve got to be patient.”

Ingram's high hopes for this season carry over to all of the Saints' running backs. As I wrote earlier this week, there seems to be more confidence and optimism in the run game than in years' past after they finished strong in that department last season.

" Us three jelling together, I don't think many teams have as a deep a running back corps as we do and as good as a running corps as we do," Ingram said. "I'd put our running corps up with anyone in the league. So I think just the fact that we're all working hard and we push each other to be better, that's what's going to help us have a lot of success this season."