Mark Ingram showed up at the New Orleans Saints' mandatory minicamp Tuesday and took a hose to the simmering fire of speculation created by his decision to skip the voluntary portion of the team's offseason workouts.
For weeks, the assumption had been that Ingram was staying away in an effort to force the Saints to extend his contract as he heads into the final year of a four-year deal.
But after Tuesday's practice, Ingram rebuffed the narrative by saying his decision was purely based on preparation.
"I just wanted to train on my own this offseason," Ingram said. "I wanted to switch up my offseason regimen this year. Felt like I had some things that I wanted to work on personally that I could get done better by myself."
Ingram said he discussed his decision with Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis before staying away. The running back added he has no plans to miss the mandatory portion or training camp once it begins in July.
"I’m not holding out," Ingram said. "I never told Sean or Mickey that I was holding out. That’s just the narrative the media created."
Ingram will be in the final season of a four-year, $16 million deal, and he's approaching free agency in an NFL that has been lukewarm on offering big contracts to running backs approaching 30.
Only 734 yards away from Deuce McAllister's franchise rushing record (McAllister is at 6,096), Ingram has a chance to break the mark this season.
But he resisted any prompt to tie his absence from OTAs to a desire for a contract extension.
"Of course I’d like an extension, but that’s not the reason I wasn’t here," Ingram said. "I just felt like it was best for my career and for me helping this team for me to be able to focus on exactly what I need to focus on."
Ingram's decision to skip voluntary team workouts and organized team activities was instead based on goals he'd set for this offseason — personal goals he felt he could accomplish better by working out with his longtime trainer, Tony Villani, and his father, former NFL receiver Mark Ingram.
Organized team activities and offseason workouts lay the foundation for the real work in training camp.
Ingram, who has spent his entire career in the same system, felt like he could better use the time elsewhere.
"When you get a little bit older in your career, you know exactly what you need to get ready," Ingram said. "You know what your body needs to prepare for the season. ... I know our offense. I just wanted to change it up and see if it works better for me."
Fresh off of back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and heading into his eighth season in the NFL, Ingram said wanted to focus on his speed. After playing at 220 pounds or more, Ingram is down to his listed weight of 215, and he feels like he addressed the goals he set.
"I did a lot of speed work, a lot of route-running, a lot of catching the football — but really, mainly, a lot, a lot of speed work," Ingram said. "That was my main goal."
Ingram said he believes his teammates understood why he stayed away from the voluntary portion of the summer, a period that can be key to building team chemistry.
And his legendary quarterback backed up that belief.
"As you become a veteran, you begin to fine-tune what you’re doing … I train elsewhere, Mark trains elsewhere," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "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. I know what he’s doing, getting himself ready to play."
Payton, Ingram's coach for his entire career in the NFL, supported his starting running back but acknowledged that he didn't agree with Ingram's decision at the time.
Payton said they haven't talked any further about Ingram's absence, in large part because they'd been in communication throughout the offseason.
"I think he's in good shape," Payton said. "He did well. Good seeing him out here."
Ingram is getting his body ready for a season that will be truncated by a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
According to the running back's representation, the substance Ingram took was not illegal and would have been approved with an exemption from the NFL, but Ingram declined to discuss the suspension in detail Tuesday, other than to say his decision to switch agents from Joel Segal to Paul Bobbitt and David Jones was related to the appeal.
"I fought it hard," Ingram said. "I don’t agree with it, but I’m going to serve my suspension, and I’m going to be ready to go when it’s time. Hopefully we’re 4-0 when I come back."
In some ways, his decision to stay away from the voluntary portion of the summer will mirror what Ingram needs to do while he serves his suspension.
"I’m going to be working my butt off," Ingram said. "Preparing myself to jump right in immediately and make an impact.”
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