Saints Positional Previews: Running Backs
Dec 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (28) runs with the ball against Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne (24) in the second quarter at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Some of the characteristics a Running Back has to exhibit are versatility, power, agility, blocking, and speed. The Saints running backs display all of these said characteristics. For this second installment of this multiple mini-series on Positional Previews, we’ll look at the Saints back field.
Let’s start here. The Saints Rushing attack ran the ball 370 times last season out of 1,067 offensive plays, gained 1,577 yards, which averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Once upon a time in the 2012 season, the Saints were in the bottom in terms of rushing yards/game. Though a 25th Overall Rushing Attack (98.6 yards/game) isn’t something to necessarily brag about, it is worth noting because of where the Saints came from. Only Jacksonville, Dallas, & Arizona ran the ball fewer times than the Saints.
So we are aware we lost Chris Ivory, and while it was a necessary casualty, we will miss his services. I think his defining moment as a Saint was last season against Atlanta. He just manhandled the defense. The Jets were in dire need of some type of full-time runner, and Ivory will hope to stay healthy to contribute accordingly. In return, we acquired a 4th Round Pick in the 2013 Draft, which landed us John Jenkins from Georgia.
Mark Ingram, 23, has been the most scrutinized member of the Saints rush attack. Why you may ask? We traded up to get him, and results are expected. The Saints have not had a 1,000 Yard Rusher since Deuce McAllister in 2006, where he gained 1,057 yards. Ingram is a player who was heralded with ‘Emmitt Smith’ like abilities, and at times, you can see why. Ingram, who played in all 16 games, was atop the Saints rushers, leading the way with 602 yards on the ground for 2012. He definitely had some memorable plays last season (Oakland comes to mind), and had Payton been in the mix, you can’t help but wonder what more could have been attained. Payton has gone on to state that he’s hoping for an improved run game for 2013, and you know that Ingram will be a huge focal point of getting there. For those wondering, Ingram has recently stated, “I’ve just been working hard this offseason, trying to get in the best shape of my life.” We all look for big things from Ingram in 2013. Could this finally be the season we see a 1,000 yard rusher?
Darren Sproles, who will turn 30 in June, is an extremely electrifying presence for the Saints to say the very least. He missed several games in 2012 due to a broken hand, but still managed to account for 911 yards of total offense (244 Rush, 667 Receiving), and lead all Saints Running Backs in terms of production. Sproles also accounted for 8 touchdowns on offense, 7 of those being receiving. You can clearly see how comfortable Brees is with Sproles, as he passed him the ball 75 times in 2012. Sproles gets about 10 touches a game, and that is just a rough average based on the 2012 stats. He can be used in various schemes, and his quickness makes him dangerous in open space. Look for similar production out of him for 2013, and I may go out on a limb here, but this season, Sproles could potentially be a 1,000 yard receiving back with Coach Payton back in the mix.
Pierre Thomas, 28, came off a little bit of a disappointing season. It was nothing about Thomas’ play on the field, he was just underutilized in my opinion. He started strong during the beginning of the season, and sort of became a ghost during the middle part, and then was called upon more during the final stretch. PT gained 473 yards on the ground, added 354 receiving, but only got in the end zone twice for 2012. One of the biggest things I missed seeing last season, as opposed to seasons past, was the use of PT in the screen game. PT is one of those players that are just tough to bring down, and he’ll make the first few guys miss him, to turn nothing into something. Thomas will arguably benefit the most from the departure of Chris Ivory. Look for him to be in the mix every game in 2013, and convert when we need him most.
Travaris Cadet, 24, is growing with the Saints. There’s not much else to be said there. He didn’t see a ton of play time during the regular season, but was praised for his contributions during the 2012 preseason. He made the active roster as a result. Cadet will see little action in the Saints backfield for 2013, but we will see him as a major part of the return game. I believe he made some poor choices last season when it came to running out kickoffs, which put the Saints into bad starting field position. However, that’s growing pains. Cadet could benefit greatly from Sean Payton’s re-entry to the team, and you could potentially see some situations where he will be called upon during the course of 2013.
Khiry Robinson, the 23 year old undrafted rookie from West Texas A&M (a Division II club), enters the Saints as a virtual unknown as to what he will bring to the club. He is currently listed #5 on the Saints depth chart. What can be said is he led his respective Lone Star Conference last season with 1,621 rushing yards, 15 touchdowns, coupled with 38 receptions for 430 yards, and 4 receiving touchdowns. As you all know, Payton loves the ‘small school talent’. He has a knack for finding players, developing them, and making them emerge from nowhere to contribute. Whether he makes the squad will ultimately be on him, but you just never know what will happen.
Let’s lastly not forgot about Jed Collins, our Full Back. Collins, 27, is entering his 3rd season as a Saint. Here’s what I will say about him. In 2011, he was rated the top rated lead blocker by Pro Football Focus, and Rotoworld. For 2012, he did a good job given his role, but now that Payton is back, and his focus on the running game, so look for Collins to be a huge force to create holes for his runners.
The only issue with having so many weapons in an offensive arsenal is not being able to use them all. However, the Saints back field understands their respective roles, and are true team players. They just want to contribute, and when called upon, blow everyone away. If Coach Payton says he wants to run the ball more, take that to the bank. He wants 100 yard games, and production. If Brees doesn’t have to throw it 40 times a game to win, then that’s a good thing.