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Sport Opinion: Mark Ingram's return to New Orleans when the Saints need him most

17:41  07 november  2021
17:41  07 november  2021 Source:   usatoday.com

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What a perfect time for Mark Ingram to return to New Orleans. The Saints are forced to absorb the loss of quarterback Jameis Winston for the remainder of the season due to his torn ACL, and all-pro receiver Michael Thomas revealed last week that he won't make it back from ankle surgery this season.

So, along comes Ingram, to not only reunite in the backfield with multi-tasking dynamo Alvin Kamara and add a layer of support for fill-in quarterback Trevor Siemian, but also to, well, liven up the joint.

Seeing an emotional Ingram igniting the "Who Dat" chant from the crowd at the Superdome before the upset of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last weekend represented one slice of his positive energy. Then there was the postgame news conference, when Ingram joined Kamara and Cam Jordan at the podium and gave another classic introduction of a teammate (remember his Lamar Jackson intro a couple of years ago?) when he shouted out cornerback P.J. Williams and proved that he is still the NFL's best hype man.

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New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram II salutes the fans during his introduction before last week's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Caesars Superdome. © Stephen Lew, USA TODAY Sports New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram II salutes the fans during his introduction before last week's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Caesars Superdome.

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Maybe Ingram, 31, won't be needed to put up a 100-yard game Sunday when the Saints (5-2) host the Falcons. He's a role player.

Yet in an ultra-pressurized NFL environment where, as the past week has reminded us, narcissism and boneheaded decisions too often command the spotlight, part of that role comes in the chemistry department for a team poised to make another playoff push. Ingram can also provide some relief for Kamara to fuel a running game that can take pressure off Siemian. And Saints coach Sean Payton will surely roll out some formations that feature Kamara and Ingram in the game as a tandem.

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"It's so surreal for him to be back," Kamara said. "This is where it all started. It's all come full-circle."

Although several teammates have vouched for Ingram's locker-room impact since his return, no one can break down his effect quite like Kamara. After Kamara broke in with the Saints as a third-round pick in 2017, it wasn't long before he took Ingram's job. Payton typically used them as a 1-2 punch, but ultimately Ingram became expendable and the offense came to revolve around Kamara.

Even so, Kamara didn't have a supporter bigger than Ingram. After Ingram left after eight seasons with the Saints, they remained close. Ingram, an 11th-year veteran, played two seasons with the Ravens before joining the Texans this season and then finding his way back to New Orleans.

"In the offseason, we kick it," Kamara said. "We've never grown apart. Obviously, the jersey changed, but I still talked to him. This is my guy.

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"When I came into the league, this was one of the reasons I was able to produce at the level I produced at, because I had him and he made it easy for me. He showed love. It was never no animosity, never no hate. We both did what we had to do. Every game, it was doing what we had to do to help the team win. We've picked up where we left off. I'm happy to have him back. I know he's happy to be back."

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Ingram carried six times for 27 yards, plus caught two passes for 25 yards against the Bucs. He got right back into the mix, ripping off 18 yards on a screen pass in the first quarter to ignite the Saints' first touchdown drive.

Then again, something was different. Ingram, who wore No. 28 for the bulk of his previous Saints tenure (he was picked 28th in the first round in 2011), had a new number: 14.

"The best of the worst numbers available," he said.

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Another backup running back, Devine Ozigbo, now wears No. 28 for the Saints.

Ingram, though, has put a new spin on No. 14, mindful that Kamara wears No. 41.

"The 14 and 41 remix," he said.

"It's ugly, but we're going to make it fire and turn it up, regardless."

That's the spirit that Ingram is bringing back with him to New Orleans.

Incentive plan

Von Miller could make his Los Angeles Rams debut tonight against the Tennessee Titans, pending the progress of his rehab from an ankle injury. Whenever he returns, Miller, 32, has incentive beyond chasing the chance to win another Super Bowl ring.

The Super Bowl 50 MVP is in the final year of his contract and undoubtedly seeks to position himself for another big payday next spring as a free agent — if the Rams can't strike a deal to keep him in tow with a long-term deal.

Rams GM Les Snead acknowledged this week that he will pursue talks with Miller's agent, Joby Branion, for a possible extension. Yet Snead also knows the risk. The Rams, who sent second- and third-round picks to Denver to land Miller, may be merely renting the impact edge rusher for that cost.

The Rams weren't the only team to talk to the Broncos about dealing for Miller. If he finishes strong and healthy, it's possible that a man who plays such a premium position could be the most coveted free agent on the market next spring — particularly among projected contenders.

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But first things first. Joining forces with all-world D-tackle Aaron Donald, all-pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey and fellow edge rusher Leonard Floyd is a great place to be when chasing quarterbacks and Super Bowl rings…with the next contract dangling as another carrot.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Opinion: Mark Ingram's return to New Orleans when the Saints need him most

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