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An Early Examination of the Saints 2011 Running Back Rotation

Will Ivory's reps lower in 2011?
Will Ivory's reps lower in 2011?

Following the Saints selection of Mark Ingram in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, the Saints now have abundance of talent at the running back position with Chris Ivory, Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas all competing with the promising rookie for carries. And don't forget about Lynell Hamilton either, who will likely compete for a roster spot if and when training camp ever happens.

Of all the backs listed, Ingram is the only one that's 100% fully healthy at the moment. Bush as we all know by now has a contract situation that may or may not work out. Hamilton, Thomas and Ivory are all smack dab in the middle of significant rehabs based on serious injuries they each suffered. Bush had minor injuries at the end of the postseason, combined with a mid-season broken leg that he's still healing from.

While the Saints have depth at this position, drafting Ingram was more crucial than we think.

If the season started today, Mark Ingram and Reggie Bush are the only two guys of the five that would be healthy enough to suit up. My guess is that all these guys will practice on a limited basis at some point prior to the season, but you all know how NFL teams deal with injuries. Players are on a pitch count, and teams take things very slowly with players in an effort to avoid the risk of re-injury.

Because the nature of the Saints' backs injuries are so serious, I believe we'll see a bigger and heavier rotation than ever before. I could easily see the four primary guys each getting 5-10 carries per game. The Saints can afford it with the depth of talent they have without a real drop in quality on the field, and they need to do it based on the lack of durability their backs seem to have. Ingram, by the way, may struggle with the same issues as he had lingering stuff plaguing him at Alabama. So I don't think you can describe any of the five main runners on the Saints as "durable" based on their injury history, but at least the Saints have five of them.

Assuming these guys all get to a place where they're ready to play - how do the reps shake out? Reggie Bush and Chris Ivory are limited in what they can do. Ditto Lynell Hamilton. Ivory and Hamilton are both power runners who don't fit well with the offense on passing downs - whether it's pass blocking or receiving. Bush is more of a utility back that's best in open space. For that reason his skills are best showcased on misdirection plays and passing plays. Ingram and Thomas are the most versatile of the bunch, as they can each help the team in various scenarios.

The drafting of Ingram, in my opinion, most directly effects Thomas because both guys are jacks of all trades. They can block, run, catch etc. and if anything, Ingram probably runs with a little more power and speed than Thomas. Those two are every down players, and the other three are not. What surprised me about Bush's freak out session is that Ingram isn't a replacement for him. Bush is not a downhill runner.

True, Ingram can be utilized in the passing game, but he's not a nightmare coverage assignment for linebackers like Bush is. While Ingram is a lot more complete and versatile than Bush, he's not as explosive and he's a completely different type of player. If anyone should be worried about how their reps will be affected - it's Pierre Thomas. I still think Ivory (and possibly Hamilton if he even makes the team) have the hard nose yards and short yardage situations on lockdown.

If Bush ends up leaving, then yes, that opens up more responsibility for Ingram and Thomas on passing downs, which means increased responsibility for Ivory on running downs. If Bush stays, he keeps the passing down and gimmick responsibilities, and Ivory keeps the short yardage/power plays. That leaves Thomas and Ingram to battle for the rest.

In a perfect world the Saints would give most of that to Thomas while they let Ingram learn the rope,, but based on everyone's health that may or may not be a luxury the Saints have. Ingram could be thrown into the fire early as the Saints handle Ivory/Thomas/Hamilton's health with kid gloves. 

Either way, while the drafting of Ingram has no direct impact on Bush's playing time with the Saints, Bush's departure would have a huge impact on Ingram's playing time. Especially when you consider that the three other guys on the roster are all making their way back from big injuries.

How do you see the reps for each player shaking out during the season?