The New Orleans Saints perennially have one of the most productive passing offenses in the NFL. But when they open the preseason at Cleveland on Thursday, there figures to be more attention paid to the running game.
That's what happens when you sign a sure-fire Hall of Famer (Adrian Peterson) to join a runner coming off his first 1,000-yard season (Mark Ingram) and trade up in the third round of the draft to select a promising and versatile running back (Alvin Kamara).
That's what the Saints have done to try and boost the running game and ease the burden on quarterback Drew Brees and the passing game even though at age 38 Brees has yet to show any signs of slowing down.
Head coach Sean Payton likes depth and versatility among his running backs. Generally speaking, Peterson and Ingram are both capable of being top-flight first- and second-down runners with the eventual starter handling the bulk of the early workload and the other staying mostly fresh to attack a weary defense later in the game. Kamara figures to be the primary third-down and pass-catching back though none of the three are one-dimensional.
It's a formula that worked exceedingly well when the Saints won the Super Bowl in the 2009 season as Pierre Thomas handled the early role, Mike Bell the late role and Reggie Bush the third-down role. The challenge for Payton and the offense will be to find a way to utilize the talents of all three runners as well as the passing game.
Speaking of 2009, that was also the season in which Peterson came the closest to the Super Bowl in his 10 seasons in Minnesota as the Vikings reached the NFC Championship Game before losing to New Orleans in overtime.
Peterson said he sees some similarity to that team, which added Brett Favre at quarterback prior to the season, and his arrival in New Orleans to join Brees.
"Just getting ready for that season and having Favre in the picture for me was like bam, this is the first time you have ever had a quarterback that's proven," Peterson said. "Once he came in, just seeing how he was the general of the offense and how he picked things up and was able to throw the ball. Just his overview of the offense and defensive schemes he made it so easy (for me). I'm excited about this as well because Brees is that same type of player."
Peterson is 32 years old and coming off knee surgery, but he's just two years removed from leading the NFL in rushing.
"This guy is one of the best running backs that's ever walked on this planet, especially in our generation," Ingram said. "With the amount of success he has had, he is a first-ballot Hall of Famer clearly, right? He looks good out here, he is running fast, he is very explosive out of his cuts. I've admired him ever since he was a freshman at Oklahoma. We're in the same backfield now and we're competing and making each other better."
Payton led a contingent of Saints personnel that had personal workouts with 11 draft prospects at the University of Tennessee, most notably Kamara.
"We spent time with each of those guys individually," Payton said. "It was evident even in the first half hour of how smart Kamara was. He was in with the quarterbacks. He understood schemes. He understood route reads and concepts, even on the field. That was impressive. It would be something that would be difficult to learn if you were just looking at a test."
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