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Saints' hard-working rookie RB Ingram the anti-Bush

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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Mark Ingram followed Reggie Bush's footsteps of greatness nearly step for step.

Bush already lined the walls of the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City when Ingram hoisted his Heisman Trophy. Bush and his USC buddies captured a BCS title as did Ingram at Alabama. Both became first-round picks by the New Orleans Saints.

That's when the shoes stopped fitting, at least for Bush.

The Saints get a hard-nosed runner who packs a punch Bush never provided. (AP)  
The Saints get a hard-nosed runner who packs a punch Bush never provided. (AP)  
Ingram and Bush shared (past tense) so much in common within their college careers, and yet they couldn't be more different now. Bush lost the Heisman, lost the BCS title for USC and lost his spot on the Saints when they traded him to the Dolphins. Bush thought Ingram had already stepped into his NFL shoes once the Saints traded back into the first round to snatch up Ingram. And then, of course, there was the Bush tweet after Ingram was drafted that just won't disappear and will stand as Bush's final message to New Orleans.

There's a message Ingram strives to convey for the Saints, too, and it's vastly different than what Bush expressed entering the league. Bush wanted to prove to everyone that he deserved to be the No. 1 overall pick.

Ingram doesn't come with agendas. He comes with brut toughness and a desire to win. That's it.

"I respect him for his demeanor," Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. "He comes in, a Heisman Trophy winner, prolific runner in college and all he wants to do is work and all he wants to do is get better. You can respect that. You can admire that more than a guy that feels entitled to something. I feel like that's the last thing that Mark Ingram feels right now is that he's entitled to anything. He goes out, he proves his worth every day in practice and shows that he can play."

Translation: Ingram is the anti-Bush.

Ingram says all the right things, and does the right things on and off the football field. He's borderline boring. No drama. No chips on shoulders. No headaches, except the ones he may inflict on defenders.

When asked about his feelings on Bush being traded to the Dolphins, Ingram replied, "I am just excited to be a part of the team. My main focus coming in to camp is to go out here, work my butt off, and do whatever I can to help the team be the best team we can be and win games. That has been my main focus. Anything else, I can't control it. I am excited to be and excited to get going."

When asked if the Bush trade surprised him, Ingram said, "I had no control over what happened. My main focus was to be in the best shape possible coming in to camp, work my butt off, and help the team win."

The Saints missed the consistent running of 2009 that spurred them to a Super Bowl title. Chris Ivory played tough at times last season. At others, he wasn't tough to find as he was in street clothes many times with injuries. Sean Payton realized how much Drew Brees and the potent offense missed the running game as New Orleans went from a top-five rushing team two years ago to a bottom-five running game in 2010.

So far, Ingram's toughness is a welcome sight for sore eyes used to watching Bush dart for the out-of-bounds chalk rather than run north-south.

Saints defenders poke, prod and pummel Ingram every day in practice trying to dislodge the football from his vise grip. Instead of blowing a gasket on a daily basis, Ingram pats his Saints defensive teammates on the top of the head or pats them on their butts for working hard during practice.

"He is used to playing big-time football," Brees said. "You play in the SEC or Big Ten, you are used to playing physical football. Every week is such a competition, such a challenge. Obviously, he had that experience coming in, but, still there is an adjustment. It is a long season. It is 16 games plus, hopefully, a lot of playoff games. As you look at it for a young guy, it's not only about adjusting to the physical nature but then also, how do I take care of my body and make sure that I am able to survive through that length of a season. It's a marathon.

"I think he is one of those very smart, attentive guys who pays attention to the other veterans: guys like Pierre [Thomas] and [Darren] Sproles and the things that they do in order to learn and in order to make sure that every time they are on the practice field it's 100 miles per hour and then to be able to recover, come out the next day and do the same thing. I think consistency is always a big thing for rookies coming in as you learn the system and learn the nature of the game. He seems to be on track. Obviously, I have been very pleased with his progress."

Ingram's battering-ram mentality has already been displayed during the preseason with two touchdown runs, one of which came on fourth-and-goal from the Texans 1. It's the sort of inside toughness the Saints haven't seen since Deuce McAllister was still a viable bruiser in 2006.

"He doesn't shy away from [contact]," Vilma said. I think he likes it. I think he enjoys it. He'll run down in there. For us, that's great that he'll do that to opponents rather than his teammates on the practice field."

The anti-Bush.

"He's just a quality, quality kid," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said after drafting Ingram. "We had him in here for a visit. We knew a lot about him. We did a lot of research and a lot of work in that area. He just came up with A-plus comments from everyone that we talked to about him. I think this is a kid of the character that we would have said of Deuce when we got him. Now he has to live up to that. That's a pretty tall order, but he's certainly got a good start on it."

You've never heard Bush's character compared to the demeanor of McAllister. Ever.

Stew on this for a second. Bush took jersey No. 22 when joining the Dolphins, Ingram's college number at Alabama. Coincidence or pettiness? Draw your own conclusions. Ingram could have snatched up Bush's popular No. 25 jersey. Instead, he went with No. 28.

Now don't get me wrong. The Saints needed both Bush and Ingram when the team drafted the Heisman Trophy running backs and BCS title winners. Bush energized a city still reeling from Hurricane Katrina with his star power and stylish appeal.

Ingram may be boring and bland, but his punch speaks volumes without the spectacle.

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