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Injuries couldn’t keep New Orleans Saints’ running back Mark Ingram from being productive last season. The former first round pick (2011 NFL Draft) totaled 964 rushing yards, 145 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, earning him a spot in the 2014 Pro Bowl.

To ensure his stability in New Orleans, the Saints provided Ingram with a four-year extension worth $16 million back on March 7. His deal was set for $7.6 million guaranteed with a $3.6 million signing bonus. Ingram enters his fifth season in the NFL and anticipates a huge year.

Head coach Sean Payton wants this year’s team to be balanced.

The Saints acquired two-time Pro Bowl center Max Unger from Seattle in a trade for tight end Jimmy Graham, and selected offensive tackle Andrus Peat with the 13th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Peat, 6-foot-7, 312 pounds, will more than likely see action at left tackle.

Both moves strongly imply a steady run game for New Orleans. Unger was named first-team All-Pro in 2012 and is a two-time NFC Conference champion (2013, 2014). He captured a Super Bowl title with Seattle in 2013, and blocked for four 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

Seahawks’ running back Marshawn Lynch averaged 4.53 yards per carry from 2011-14.

Peat was a marquee offensive lineman at Stanford, logging action in 40 career games. He was a two-time Pac-12 champion (2012, 2013) and winner of the Morris Trophy last season.

Peat blocked for an average of 4.58 yards per carry and at 2,000 yards a season.

Diversity is something Ingram has worked on throughout training camp. He wants to be an exceptional pass catcher out of the backfield. A consistent run game made New Orleans a playoff team in five of its 10 seasons with quarterback Drew Brees and a Super Bowl champion in 2009. The Saints averaged 4.2 yards per carry during those years (2006, 2009-11, 2013).

Brees is considered one of the best quarterbacks in the league; however, he obtained a completion mark of 70 percent in only two of his 10 seasons in New Orleans. He accounted for 4,388 passing yards with 34 touchdowns and 11 interceptions on a 70.6 completion rating in 2009. New Orleans was solid on the ground, totaling 2,106 yards and 21 scores (4.5 average).

Two years later, Brees hit the 70 percent target again. He tossed for 5,476 yards with 46 touchdowns and 14 interceptions on a 71.2 percent completion scale in 2011. The Saints averaged 4.9 yards per carry, which is the highest since Brees’ arrival in 2006.

Brees excels more so on play action passes than standard drop back attempts.

A heavy dose of ground and pound forces defensive backs to walk down in the box, allowing a quarterback to sense and audible to a pass. The reassurance of Ingram in New Orleans and acquiring both Unger and Peat has potential to bode well for Ingram and Brees this season.

Stephen M. Smith is a senior analyst and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine and SB Nation. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.

Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 10+ years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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