Saints coach Sean Payton revealed the extent of the injury, which landed Ingram on season-ending injured reserve. Payton said it was the same shoulder that had been nagging Ingram in recent weeks, when he was limited in practice but didn't miss any game time.
"He had an AC sprain. And then after this past game, he knew it felt different," Payton said of the Saints' 41-38 loss to the Carolina Panthers, which Ingram finished despite the injury. "He had another MRI done, and there was more damage done to it. At that point, he knew, the club knew ... that he was gonna have it fixed."
Ingram, 25, was one of the few bright spots for the 4-8 Saints this year. After making his first Pro Bowl as an alternate in 2014, Ingram was putting up even better numbers this year with 769 rushing yards and a career-high 50 catches for 405 yards. He ranks sixth in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage.
Spiller, 28, has been one of the most perplexing players in the NFL this year -- barely playing after he signed a four-year, $16 million contract in free agency. Spiller played only five snaps against the Panthers and has just four touches over the past two games.
"Well, we're gonna get a chance to see more now. ... He'll play a significant role, as will Tim Hightower and even [rookie Marcus] Murphy," said Payton, who explained Thursday that Spiller's summer knee injury was a big part of the reason his snaps have been so low.
Spiller had arthroscopic surgery that wiped out most of his preseason and Week 1 of the regular season. But Spiller has insisted that he feels healthy, with his usual speed and explosion, and he hasn't missed practice time in months. Payton also said earlier this year that he preferred Ingram to Spiller in pass protection, which limited Spiller's third-down snaps.
"Listen, it's the one player that I'm trying to figure out, 'All right, what are the touches?'" Payton said of Spiller. "So I think that [knee injury] put him behind. And hopefully here down the stretch we can give him enough touches to see."
Spiller has never complained publicly about his lack of touches, insisting that he's focused on performing whenever he gets the call. But he has also consistently defended his ability.
"I think my skill set speaks for itself," Spiller said. "I think I have the speed, I think you can probably look at the Dallas game [when he scored an 80-yard touchdown in overtime]. I have the cutting ability -- you can probably go to the Giants game. So I feel great. But I'm always trying to get faster."
Hightower, meanwhile, is a remarkable comeback story. He had not played a regular-season game until this year after suffering a torn ACL in 2011. An undiagnosed infection stunted his recovery. He finally caught on with the Saints this offseason, got cut during Week 1, then came back last month when backup Khiry Robinson was injured.
Hightower, 29, has only 12 carries for 48 yards this season, but he had 11 of them in one game while Ingram was dinged up against the Washington Redskins last month. And Payton has consistently praised Hightower for his well-rounded ability. He singled out Hightower's pass-protection Thursday -- another asset that could help lead to a significant role.
"He's competitive, he's tough, he's been in that spotlight. And for him, it's the confidence that leg is a 100 percent," Payton said. "So I'm excited to see him play, just like I am with C.J."