METAIRIE, La. – Mark Ingram said he was not holding out for a new contract when he decided to skip the New Orleans Saints‘ OTAs and offseason conditioning program. Rather, he just wanted to change up his regimen and work out on his own heading into his eighth NFL season.
But the Pro Bowl running back, who returned Tuesday for the team’s mandatory minicamp at a slimmer 215 pounds, said he has been “working my butt off” with his longtime trainer in South Florida. And he said he will fully participate in training camp.
Ingram, who is also facing a four-game suspension to start the 2018 season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, said he’ll be prepared to “jump right in immediately and make an impact” when he returns in Week 5.
“You know, people will make their own narrative. The media makes their own narrative. I’m not angry with my contract. I wasn’t holding out,” said Ingram, who is heading into the final year of his deal after he had his career-best season in 2017 in a historic timeshare with Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara.
“Yeah, I’m in the last year of my deal. Of course I’d like an extension. But that’s not the reason I wasn’t here,” Ingram continued. “You have the option to stay home and train on your own. … The main reason that I was not here was because I was training on my own, working on some things that I felt like I needed to get better at, that I could do best on my own.”
Ingram said that included a lot of speed work, some route-running and pass catching, keeping his weight down and making sure his body is healthy. He said he was around 226 pounds at this time last year and probably played the season between 218-222 pounds.
“I feel like when you get a little bit older in your career, you know exactly what you need to get ready. You know what your body needs to prepare for the season,” Ingram said. “I’ve been in the system for seven years here, I’ve been in the offseason program seven years, I know exactly what it entails. I know our offense. I just wanted to change it up and see if it works better for me.
“It’s nothing against our program or anything like that. I told (coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis) everything that I was doing every step of the way.”
Ingram also said he knows his teammates understand and he doesn’t feel like he has anything to explain or apologize for.
“A lot of guys said I look good,” Ingram added. “I think people make more of an issue of it than it really is. Of course it’s good to be here developing that team camaraderie and all that. But like I said, I feel like when you get older and more experienced, I feel like you know exactly what you need to be at the top of your game.”
Saints quarterback Drew Brees agreed, saying, “It certainly hasn’t distracted me. I don’t think it’s distracted anybody.”
“Just because Mark hasn’t been here during the offseason, that doesn’t worry me one bit, because I’ve stayed in constant communication with him,” Brees said. “I know what he’s doing getting himself ready to play. And I know the comfort level and confidence I have in him and the accountability that he feels toward this team.”
Although Payton said last month that he disagreed with Ingram’s decision to skip offseason workouts, he said he has stayed in touch with him and said Ingram is in good shape and performed well Tuesday.
“It’s good seeing him out here,” Payton said.
As for Ingram’s suspension, he declined to get into any specifics about what he tested positive for or why he disagreed with the NFL’s ruling – only stressing repeatedly that, “I fought it hard, and I don’t agree with it.”
Ingram’s agents put out a statement on his behalf last month, saying that he “vigorously challenged the test results through the arbitration process” and that he tested positive for a substance that was “permissible with the proper use exemption with the NFL.”
“But I’m gonna serve my suspension, and I’m gonna be ready to go when it’s time,” Ingram said Tuesday, as he spoke publicly on the subject for the first time. “Hopefully we’re 4-0 when I come back.”
Ingram, a Heisman trophy winner at Alabama and first-round draft pick in 2011, said it’s “gonna hurt” to miss time – not only for himself but for his teammates, family, the organization and the fans that support him.
“But I’ll be OK. I’m moving forward, not looking back,” Ingram said. “I’m gonna overcome it. I’m gonna come back and I’m gonna play well, and it’s gonna fade away.”
In the meantime, the Saints are kicking the tires on some veteran running backs. Former Saints backup Tim Hightower returned for a three-day tryout during this week’s minicamp. And ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that both Jamaal Charles and Terrance West will be in for visits on Wednesday.
Payton said last month that the Saints didn’t immediately plan to bring in a veteran to replace Ingram, and that they wanted to focus on their own young running backs like Alvin Kamara, Trey Edmunds, Jonathan Williams, Boston Scott and Daniel Lasco this summer.
But their “short list” of available veterans is even more important under the circumstances.
“If we work anyone out here in the next few days, it would be just to see what kind of shape they’re in, see how they’re doing,” Payton said. “It doesn’t preclude us from signing someone, but it’s pretty normal.”