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Saints won't increase Kamara's carries with Ingram out

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METAIRIE, La. -- Saints running back Alvin Kamara stands first in line to see increased action with Mark Ingram serving a four-game suspension to start the regular season.

Don't expect the Saints, however, to force feed touches to the all-purpose Kamara, who totaled 728 yards rushing and eight touchdowns on 120 carries and 826 yards receiving and five touchdowns on 81 catches in 2017.

Instead, the Saints want to be smart about utilizing the NFL's reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year.

"The mistake would be that Alvin gets 15 more carries and that's not the direction we would expect to go," coach Sean Payton said Saturday at the team's rookie minicamp. "I don't think that is wise."

Saints running backs coach Joel Thomas echoed Payton on the dangers of projecting more carries for Kamara during the first four games of the season.

"I think it would be a disservice to him," Thomas said. "Let's be honest here -- he's excelled with the ratio he's had, whether it's the carries or the combination with the catches, as well.

"It's almost a number that you want to get to that he's still getting the touches that he's had in the past. But maybe they occur through two, three or four more carries, and two or three less receptions. By all means, we don't want to sit there and run the tread off the back with him early in the season because this thing it's a marathon, 16 games. Four games there, I think we've got the talent -- offensively and in the backfield -- to go ahead and push through this little process."

Payton said the team would be open to considering a veteran like Adrian Peterson if it came down to that. But the Saints currently don't plans to go that route and are comfortable in maintaining the status quo for now.

In addition to Kamara, the Saints have Jonathan Williams, Daniel Lasco, Trey Edmunds and rookie Boston Scott, the team's sixth-round pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.

"There will be a handful of other guys competing for those touches," Payton said. "Certainly, you miss something with a guy like Mark Ingram in those early weeks. But I think for us it's going to be evaluating that whole position and determining who can handle some of that role."

Of the quartet vying to catch the coaching staff's attention, the 6-foot, 223-pound Williams offers plenty of intrigue.

Williams, who played collegiately at Arkansas, landed on New Orleans' radar during the predraft process in 2016. But the Bills used a fifth-round pick on Williams in the draft and he produced 94 yards rushing and a touchdown on 27 catches in 11 games during his rookie season.

Buffalo released Williams in early September 2017 and he quickly signed with the Broncos practice squad. The Saints continued to keep an eye on Williams based on previous scouting and eventually signed Williams away from the Broncos practice squad leading to Week 11 of the 2017 season.

"That's one of the reasons why we went ahead and signed him to our active roster," Payton said. "We thought he had real good vision and balance."

With half a regular season and the entire offseason to absorb the Saints' scheme, Williams should be ready if called upon. And Thomas, who coached Williams at Arkansas, believes the running back's skill set translates well within the offensive scheme.

"He has a knack for what we call our slash game as far as puncturing and finding a hole," Thomas said. "He catches the ball decent out of the backfield, he's a bigger body and he can sustain some of the contact that's involved with playing the position. He's got some intelligence to him, as well. He'll be able to grasp this offense fine and he has."

In the meantime, losing Ingram to start the regular season certainly provides a blow to a Saints' ground game that finished the 2017 season ranked fifth in the league (129.4 yards per game).

But the Saints are in good hands with Kamara, and the team looks forward to seeing whether Williams, Lasco, Edmunds or Scott can emerge to take on a complementary role.

"I'm anxious to evaluate the guys that we have here and our numbers here right now," Payton said.

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