‘Versatile’ Saints not worried about contracts, absences
The New Orleans Saints have been without a few of their star players this spring.
Running back Mark Ingram skipped organized team activities. Defensive end Cameron Jordan and wide receiver Michael Thomas were excused from this week’s minicamp.
Saints coach Sean Payton isn’t concerned, and it’s been business as usual for the Saints.
Payton said Jordan was given time off following the birth of his third child. While Payton didn’t give a reason for Thomas’ absence, he did tell reporters Tuesday the third-year receiver was excused from the mandatory minicamp.
Ingram did report to this week’s minicamp after missing OTAs. Ingram is coming off his second Pro Bowl and entering the final year of a contract that is set to pay him $4 million in 2018. He said skipping OTAs had nothing to do with his contract situation.
“People make their own narrative, the media makes their own narrative,” Ingram said Tuesday. “I’m not angry with my contact. I wasn’t holding out. 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.
“It is voluntary, you have the option to come; I had a workout bonus.”
The eight-year veteran spent that time training in Florida, where he said he focused on his speed and route running. Ingram had a career-high 58 receptions last season in addition to his team-high 1,124 rushing yards.
Ingram will miss the first four games of the 2018 season, however, because of a suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
The Saints do have some insurance at the position with 2017 Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara, who is expected to get the bulk of the touches over the first month of the 2018 season.
That doesn’t mean the Saints are resting on their laurels. They’ve worked out free-agent veterans Tim Hightower and Jamaal Charles this week.
“We have five guys that are out here working out for three days which is pretty common,” Payton said. “(Hightower is) just someone who we will take a look at. Obviously, we’re familiar with him. I think we have a kicker, a defensive tackle, and a wide receiver. We have a number of guys that are just here on a three-day workout. It always gives us an idea of where guys are. Oftentimes it helps us with the shortlists grade.
“If we work anyone out here in the next few days it would be just to see what kind of shape (they’re in) and see how they’re doing. That doesn’t preclude us from signing someone, but that’s pretty normal.”
The Saints want versatility at running back, just as Payton said they have at linebacker with A.J. Klein, Alex Anzalone, Manti Te’o and Demario Davis, who signed as a free agent in March.
“Each of those guys generally is trained in a primary and then a secondary spot,” Payton said of the position group as a whole. “So, some them are just working at one spot, Again, hopefully our depth there is better and I think we have good competition at all those positions.”
Another 2018 free-agent signing gives the Saints versatility at safety as Payton praised former Carolina Panthers center fielder Kurt Coleman.
“He’s a guy that’s played in a handful of schemes. He’s smart. He knows what to do,” Payton said. “So, I don’t know that with his addition we look change certain things but obviously when you’re in man it’s about matchups and then he’s someone that has some versatility playing deep and then closer to the ball.”
Like Ingram, Saints quarterback Drew Brees is also entering the final year of his contract, but said neither situation is a distraction.
“I mean at the end of the day, what’s the ultimate goal? The ultimate goal is to put yourself in the best position to see once the season comes around,” Brees said. “There are important elements to the offseason when it comes to training and you know getting yourself ready to be your best. I know each guy here, especially as you become more veteran, you begin to you know kind of fine tune the stuff that you’re doing. You begin to realize what works for you and what’s going to get you in the best position, not just physically, but mentally and psychologically.
“Mark has guys he trains with elsewhere. So 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 added. “I know what he’s doing to get himself ready to play and I know the comfort level and the confidence I have in him and the accountability that he feels for this team so I’m not worried about that one bit.”